Residents came out to share their thoughts and concerns with new V.I. National Park Superintendent Mark Hardgrove at open houses on September 18 at the VINP Visitor’s Center in Cruz Bay, and on September 19 at the John’s Folly Learning Institute.
The main objectives of the open houses was to improve communication between the VINP and residents, explained Hardgrove, who attended both events with several VINP rangers.
“The number one issue is to improve communication with the community and to give them a better understanding of the VINP,” said Hardgrove. “We will be planning in concert with the community.”
Hardgrove’s goals include building up the VINP budget and hiring a community planner to work with a government community planner slated to be hired this year.
“We’ve got a budget of $4.9 million, which I hope to build up to $8 million per year by competing within the National Park Service,” said Hardgrove. “This will allow us to hire a community planner to work in concert with the government’s community planner.”
Another one of Hardgrove’s initiatives involves transportation within the VINP. Hardgrove, who began his job as VINP superintendent in August, hopes to draw inspiration from the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, where he served as deputy superintendent for the past six years.
“In Cape Hatteras, the community’s largest concern from Memorial Day to Labor Day is that there’s too many cars, so we were implementing a train system and passenger ferries,” said Hardgrove. “Here, we will be working with the community and taxi drivers to improve transportation.”
Former Senator at Large Craig Barshinger who, during his tenure, compiled a five-point parking plan including a tram continually running through town, applauded
Hardgrove’s initiative and suggested the VINP superintendent also work with local business owners who were on board for the former senator’s plan.
Many of Hardgrove’s plans center on improving relations between the VINP and island residents.
“In the past, people have felt like they didn’t know what was going on in the park until they saw it in the paper,” said Hardgrove. “We can do better than that. I’d like to implement an internal communication strategy, so the park staff will be ambassdors in their neighborhoods.”
“These are exciting times and I’m happy to be here,” Hardgrove continued. “I have a very committed, wonderful, energetic staff.”
In addition to communicating his desire to maintain an open relationship with the community, Hardgrove enjoyed the opportunity to hear from residents at the open houses.
“The open house at the Visitor’s Center attracted a lot of the folks who work downtown, so it was a great opportunity for me to meet some of the local leadership in Cruz Bay,” said Hardgrove. “Although the turnout at the open house at John’s Folly was small, that afforded me the opportunity to hear from folks who went to school there and who were raised on the island.”
“I got to hear their experiences, dreams and aspirations for the future along with some of their unique history, and I was very inspired by their passion and their interest in our communities,” the superintendent added.
Residents expressed interest in providing educational opportunities to the island youth through the VINP, according to Hardgrove.
While the turnout at the open houses was low, Hardgrove hopes to host more events in the future, he explained.
“I think this time of year may not have been the best, so I think the next time we’ll try to get the word out a little bit sooner and hopefully we’ll have more topics we can discuss,” said Hardgrove. “This was really just a meet and greet to allow me to hear from the public and for me to welcome them into the VINP.”
To contact Hardgrove, call 776-6201 ext. 242.