Land and water tours will be returning to Magens Bay after the park’s board voted Friday to grant a contract to the business Walk on Water.
The Walk on Water tours — suspended since the twin Category 5 hurricanes of September 2017, and then further disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic — are ready to resume, representative H.L. Freyn, who also manages the Yak Shak paddleboard and kayak rentals at Magens Bay, told the board during a presentation at their meeting in March.
On Friday, the board voted 3-1 to allow them to resume, with members Barbara Petersen, Jason Charles, and Avery Lewis voting for, and Dayle Barry voting against over concerns that the contract may conflict with that of the Yak Shak.
Freyn, who did not attend Friday’s virtual meeting, said in March that the tour operation has a business license, liability insurance, a new website, and a “proven plan” to ensure its guides are properly trained in the history and flora and fauna of the area. They also will have lifeguard and Red Cross certifications in CPR and the use of automated external defibrillators, he said.
The sea tours will utilize between eight and 10 two-person pedal kayaks, which will be housed on a mobile trailer that can be moved off-site if necessary. Guides will take groups of six to eight people, Freyn said. The walking tours will include the coconut grove and the arboretum.
Walk on Water plans to charge $79 for the combined tour, $29 for the land tour, and $59 for the water tour, said Freyn, with 20 percent of the ticket price going to the Magens Bay Authority, he said.
Starting in October, non-residents will have to pay more to access those tours after the board voted in executive session to raise the price of admission for out-of-town visitors to $7 effective Oct. 1, followed by a hike to $9 starting April 1, 2024. Currently, non-residents pay $5 for a day pass, while residents pay $2.
In other business, the board said it has received 24 proposals in response to RFPs it issued in March for the three concessions at the beach, including nine for the food and beverage operation, seven for the beach boutique, and five for the equipment rentals. Four more were submitted, unsolicited, for Smith Bay Park on the island’s East End, which the authority also manages, said Interim General Manager MemorieAnne Brown Callender.
Petersen said at the board’s meeting in March that the contract could go to three different vendors or a single, multi-pronged vendor as has been the case for at least 40 years.
The end goal is to create a valued experience for guests to the territory as well as local beachgoers, she said at the time.
“We’ve been accused, for example, of not providing local food; we’ve been accused of not providing a local experience,” Petersen said of calls for change. “But we wanted it to be fair and equitable. We wanted it to be transparent, and rightfully so.”
The board will now begin evaluating the proposals and report back when it meets again in August after taking a break in July, said Barry.
The board on Friday also heard from concerned fisherman Gene Brin Jr., who pays for a mooring in Magens Bay and questioned the placement of new channel markers by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
“I wanted to understand the premises for the new channel marker buoys that were put in the fishermen mooring field,” said Brin. “I’m not sure if any of the board members are mariners or have experience in the maritime world, but I have some concerns. I’m trying to understand … what was the basis of putting two red and green buoys for a channel almost 50 feet wide, which is literally the largest channel for beach entry in the Virgin Islands,” he said.
“Being a fisherman who has a mooring there, my mooring fell smack dab in the center — my grandfather mooring that I’m paying yearly with DPNR a mooring fee, I’m registered, and it has GPS coordinates — so I was trying to get a better understanding what’s in the future planning for the fisherman mooring field in Magens Bay,” Brin said.
“I wasn’t aware of that,” said board member Charles.
“I’m just hearing about it for the first time myself,” said board member Barry, who suggested the authority reach out to DPNR regarding its rationale for the markers’ placement.
“I do know that the channel markers were put in to protect the swimmers in the water,” said Interim General Manager MemorieAnne Brown Callender, but said she had no information about the width of the channel.
Lewis, who is the St. Thomas-Water Island administrator and represents the governor on the board, suggested Callender speak to DPNR and report back to Brin and the board.
“My concern is the width of the channel in correlation to all the average channel markers around the entire Virgin Islands, St. John, Water Island. It’s the widest channel markers. Being a mariner of 40-plus years, with Coast Guard certification, it’s the largest channel to enter a beach and it was put in the middle of the fisherman mooring field,” said Brin.
“First of all, you don’t necessarily put a channel in a mooring field. That’s one rationale I don’t understand. If it’s meant for dinghies to come in from yachts it should be much smaller and should be situated in a more accessible way to avoid coming through a mooring field where the fishermen pay for the moorings, and register them, and have to go back and register them every year with DPNR,” he said.
“We will get the answer for you, Mr. Brin. We will work it out, between member Lewis and the interim general manager. We will make sure we find out why that was done. We were not aware,” said Petersen.
During its executive session, the board discussed its Fiscal Year 2024 budget, in preparation for a hearing before the V.I. Legislature on Aug. 1, said Petersen. The board also agreed to allow all board members to attend the annual Seatrade Cruise Global conference, held each spring in Miami, Florida, if they so choose.
Board members Katina Coulianos, Cecile de Jongh and Robert Moron all had excused absences and did not attend Friday’s meeting.