“Snorkel Family” Volunteers in VINP To Give Back to Island for Memories

Volunteers work at the recently uncovered Francis Bay Great House, above, where they exposed beautiful tile floors.


Of the thousands of people who visit the V.I. National Park each year, not many stop to ask how they can give back. One group of friends who have been vacationing on St. John for several years — some of them for decades — decided to do just that.

The group of nearly 50 friends, who live throughout the U.S. and vacation together each year at Cinnamon Bay, discovered the VINP volunteer program run by volunteer coordinator Jeff Chabot, and in doing so, they discovered that giving back can be fun.

The group, who’ve dubbed themselves the “Snorkel Family,” were interested in giving back to the island where they shared so many fond memories, explained David Messinger of Boston.

“We’ve always tried to give something back,” said David Messinger. “Now, this program has created a wonderful opportunity to give back.”
 During their stay this year, the Snorkel Family worked on everything from the Annaberg ruins to the Francis Bay Great House. The group was excited to reveal the beautiful details of the great house at Francis Bay, explained Judy Messinger.

Exposing Historic Ruins
“We were excited to expose beautiful tile floors inside the house,” said Judy Messinger. “When we finished each day and looked at what we’d accomplished, it was so exciting, and we enjoyed thinking about how the VINP might take the next steps to protect these beautifully exposed ruins.”

Chabot was right there to encourage the group, even when the work became difficult, Judy Messinger continued.

“Jeff really helps generate enthusiasm,” she said. “It’s amazing how well he organized us and how careful he was in terms of making sure we were careful to protect historical resources. Jeff makes it exciting to lift up catch ‘n keep.”

The Snorkel Family was happy to hear Chabot address the campers at Cinnamon Bay during a Monday afternoon, February 11, welcome lunch for guests. Chabot, who picks up volunteers at Cinnamon Bay on Thursdays at 8:15 a.m., told the campers how they can help out in the VINP.

“It’s nice he’s addressing this group, because I’m not quite sure how much they know about the volunteer program,” said Snorkel Family member and Rochester, New York resident Jim Chen. “I’m sure a lot of people would welcome the opportunity to help out. Even though we’re on vacation, there’s a purpose to volunteering and it makes us feel good.”

Chabot delivered a short speech to the campers as they enjoyed lunch, telling them how they can get involved in helping maintain the VINP’s trails and ruins.

Volunteer Program a “Miracle”
“This is primarily for people who want to give back to the park,” said Chabot. “People often leave the site a lot more excited than when we went in. You can give as little or as much effort as you want, and you get to see some really historic ruins.”

People like Chabot are instrumental to the preservation of the VINP’s historic ruins and other resources, explained David Messinger.

“All the national parks are decaying and underfinanced, which is a danger to historic sites,” he said. “The VINP doesn’t have significant resources, so to have someone like Jeff come along is a miracle. He has an extraordinary gift, skill and courage.”

While it often takes up to 20 years to build a successful volunteer program, Chabot has accomplished this goal in just a year, David Messinger added.

“By creating this easy opportunity for people to give, support is starting to swell,” he said.

Leading volunteer work parties is all in a day’s work for Chabot, who enjoyed working with the Snorkel Family, he explained.

“I think we’ll see more of the Snorkel Family in the future,” said Chabot. “They’ve had fun. When they have a good time, I have a good time.”

Residents and tourists alike are welcome to join the volunteer work party. Chabot picks up volunteers on Thursdays at 8 a.m. at the VINP maintenance parking lot, 8:15 a.m. at Cinnamon Bay and 8:30 a.m. at Maho Bay, and on Saturdays at 8 a.m. at the VINP maintenance parking lot. For more information, call the Friends of the VINP at 779-4940.