Open forum: Praising Oriel Smith, Preserving Nature’s Beauty

Oriel Smith

Dear Source:

The treat of treats is having breakfast with a St. John superstar, Oriel Smith. His smile and sense of humor are contagious. After he knocked over the salt shaker not once but twice, he scolded himself for using his hands so demonstratively. It was a wonderful laugh-fest and learning experience for me.

Having originally come from Grand Cayman, Oriel was hired by Caneel in 1997 to be the director of landscape and grounds after Hurricane Marilyn had devastated the resort. He was asked to add color, so he planted an entire container of bougainvillea, about 2,500 plants. Soon after, Conde Nast Magazine voted Caneel the No. 1 landscaped resort in the Caribbean!

Since donkeys have long been part of St. John’s culture, they roamed the property, and Oriel became their beloved friend and caretaker. Around 1999, a park ranger shot one of the males and a baby on the grounds. The baby’s blood splashed on its mother, and all hell broke loose with the guests at Caneel. This was probably the beginning of the love/hate relationship for the donkeys and citizens of St. John.

Don’t forget, these animals were indispensable in the early life on the island. They were the only mode of transportation other than the sea; they pulled the plows, toted the sugarcane and rotated the grinding wheels to pulverize the cane. Today we have about 40 donkeys on the island, according to Oriel, and they are a delight to our visitors. The donkeys desperately need a corral for shelter, water, food and health care. If they don’t get one, they will continue to be hit by cars and be a nuisance in unwanted places. We must respect the culture of our past and protect them.

St. John is about 20 square miles big and roughly 60 percent is National Park land which was donated by Laurence Rockefeller. His goal was to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of St. John and contribute towards the well-being of the local community. Since wildlife of every kind is part of this island, it’s up to us, the stewards of the land, to lend a hand.

A coalition has recently been organized to do just that. If you would help us in any way and be a part of our initiative, please contact Shelley LeTendre at

Susan Loyd is a resident of St. John.