Martha Hills accepts her volunteer of the year award at the Friends of VINP’s annual meeting.
About 75 residents packed the Cinnamon Bay Campgrounds’ T’ree Lizard Restaurant on Sunday afternoon, January 16, for the Friends of V.I. National Park’s annual meeting.
The afternoon marked a decade of Friends’ president Joe Kessler’s leadership of the non-profit arm of V.I. National Park.
“This is my 10th meeting with you,” Kessler told the group. “It’s kind of scary to tell the truth, but here we are. It’s St. John, the Friends, the Park and all of you who make it all worthwhile.”
Friends of VINP had a big year in 2010, and met its fundraising goals for the first time in years, Kessler explained.
“Despite financial woes here and around the world, members and donors continue to feel that supporting Friends is a worthwhile investment,” said Kessler. “We had a modest increase in membership and our general fundraising was on target for the first time in a long time.”
The archaeology program at Cinnamon Bay, completing the accessible trail at the Cinnamon Bay ruins, new tables and grills at Francis Bay and other beaches, the underwater camera at Lameshur Bay and continued support of the annual Folklife Festival were just a few of the many projects Friends supported over the past year, explained Kessler.
“We’re especially proud of our work getting school kids in the park,” he said. “More than 800 St. Thomas and St. John students attended last year’s Folklife Festival and we had more than 700 students at our Earth Day Fair. One hundred kids spent between three and five days at VIERS eco summer camps.”
“Eight high school students, four from the states and four from the Virgin Islands, took part in the summer trail crew program,” said Kessler. “And we started our Ranger in Training program thanks to the National Park Foundation.”
Looking ahead, Friends expects to be just as energetic and effective in 2011, according to Kessler.
“We have every hope that 2011 will be just as good, if not better,” he said. “The second phase of our accessible trail at Francis Bay will be completed. We expect to complete the renovation of the archaeology lab at Cinnamon Bay and we’ll continue for the support of the cultural and education projects which we do every year.”
Instead of Carabana Ensemble’s weekly plays at the Cinnamon Bay amphitheater, Eddie Bruce will lead drumming and music sessions at the campground once a week starting in February, which Friends is supporting.
The group will also focus on improving the local lionfish response, conduct an assessment of the VINP and rate the trails for difficulty, Kessler explained.
“We are grateful to our contributors and donor base and thank our board for its leadership and guidance as well as our effective staff which makes the VINP a model of resource protection and cultural preservation,” said the Friends president.
Volunteerism is the core value of Friends and 2010 saw 2,000 individuals giving their time to the group, according to Kessler.
“With so many volunteers it is difficult to decide who to single out, but this year we honor Martha Hills as volunteer of the year,” he said.
Hills has worked in Friends of the Park store since it opened three years ago and was honored with a plaque naming her the 2010 Friends of VINP Volunteer of the Year.
“I love St. John and the fact that I can contribute to the park makes me really happy,” said Hills.
Kessler also acknowledged volunteer coordinator Jeff Chabot for his continued work improving trails and clearing ruins throughout the VINP.
“Jeff Chabot continues to be our volunteer extraordinaire,” said Kessler. “He puts in an amazing amount of work to make this park what it is.”
Superintendent Mark Hardgrove announced that long-time VINP Visitors’ Center Volunteer Jane Bowry was honored as 2010’s VINP Volunteer of the Year.
“I have the easiest job on Earth — telling people about St. John,” said Bowry. “It’s a lovely place with lovely people.”
The 2010 Partnership Award, given to a VINP employee who best exemplifies the Friends and park relationship, was bestowed on Jessica Hornbeck who led the Ranger in Training last summer.
“Jessica has since left the park, but that doesn’t diminish the contributions she made while she was here,” said Kessler.
While Friends continues to do all it can to support VINP, the park still faces serious threats, Kessler told the group.
“There is chronic underfunding by the federal government,” he said. “You can help by contacting your elected representatives and urging them to increase support to National Parks.”
Speaking before Kessler took the podium, Friends of VINP’s board of directors president Fraser Drummand announced that two long-serving members of the board resigned in 2010, Harry Daniel and Glenn Spear. Those openings were filled by Julius E. Sprauve School vice principasl Brenda Dalmida and former Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Andy Rutnik