At the annual meeting of the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park, the tried and true gave way to new leadership. But on his way to retirement, the outgoing FVINP president laid out an ambitious plan for 2019.
President Joe Kessler detailed a list of programs and projects approved by the group’s board of directors for the year ahead. Part of the plan calls for restoring some programs for youth and activities that haven’t been seen since the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Sept. 2017.
Kessler delivered his farewell speech before a group of 70 people meeting at the Trunk Bay beach pavilion on Sunday afternoon. With a touch of humor he turned over the mantle he held for 17 years to Todd Sampsell, chosen as the new FVINP leader.
“If there ever was a challenging year for the island, and a challenging year for the Friends, St. John was really in rough shape,” Kessler said, “But in the face of this adversity, I think, the Friends came back stronger than ever. And that’s thanks to many. Thanks to the exceptional generosity of many of you, our members and donors, the hard work of an amazing staff of an overtly supportive board and collaboration with our Park colleagues.”
A lengthy task list was also approved, allowing Friends-sponsored restoration projects to continue. Ten recovery projects with an estimated cost of $345,000 appeared on this year’s to-do list, displayed on a poster at the front of the meeting room.
During a typical annual meeting, FVINP’s task list can appear more like a wishlist. Some goals start off the year fully funded. Others may be funded through proceeds of Friends fundraisers such as the Beach to Beach Power Swim scheduled for May.
The plan earmarks $925,000 for natural resource protection programs, with continued vigilance against invasive lionfish atop the list. There is also a promised return of the sea turtle monitoring program and a study of the island’s bat population.
Incoming Friends President Sampsell promised those in the audience that under his leadership, the park will see an increasing number of research projects. The new president came to the Virgin Islands from Missouri, where he built a career working for conservation groups.
“We’re going to continue to focus on the things that the Friends are known for, that the Friends do well. To help the park service advance protection of our natural and our historic resources,” he said.
He also called for the formulation of a detailed strategic plan and promoting increased dialogue with the wider community to shape the plan and identify priorities.
On the list of goals advancing cultural resource preservation, Friends said they will revitalize the annual Annaberg Black History Fair they helped sponsor since its inception in 1991. Extensive storm damage to the Annaberg Plantation restoration site caused the fair to be moved to the Winston Wells Ballpark in 2018.
Also making a planned comeback is the popular Earth Day celebration in April, a program included on the goals for Education and Environmental Protection. The fair features exhibits raising awareness about environmental protection, alternative energy, recycling programs and the businesses and agencies that promote and maintain them.
The traditional venue for the Earth Day Fair is the VINP ball field in Cruz Bay. Newly appointed park Superintendent Nigel Fields announced a plan to refurbish the ball field and playground adjacent to the Cruz Bay Visitors Center. After the storms, the field became a staging area for electrical restoration teams and equipment flown in from the U.S. mainland.
The effort to restore the field to a community play space and athletic field is expected to come about through a collaboration between the park, the Friends and the Virgin Islands Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation.
The Friends are also giving priority to an archaeology and heritage restoration project. One of the big goals in 2019 will be to create a new structure to house the artifacts collected through years of work. They were once kept at the archaeology lab at Cinnamon Bay, which was destroyed in the passage of Hurricane Irma.
That project is included on the 2019 wish list for Cultural Resource Preservation Projects and carries a funding goal of $300,922.