St. John Celebrates the New VINP Facility at Lind Point

Denise Georges, Oscar James, and Jackie Clendenin share smiles during a break in the ceremony. (Source photo by Amy H. Roberts)
Denise Georges, Oscar James, and Jackie Clendenin share smiles during a break in the ceremony. (Source photo by Amy H. Roberts)

There were smiles all around, and even a few tears, as officials from the National Park Service hosted the grand opening of the Resource Management, Science and Collection Center on St. John Saturday morning.

Residents and visitors, as well as current and former Virgin Islands National Park employees, rode shuttle buses from the NPS Visitor Center in Cruz Bay up the steep hill to Lind Point to tour the new complex.

Esther Francis and Paul Jones, VINP concession specialists, pose with retired resource manager Rafe Boulon. (Source photo by Amy H. Roberts)
Esther Francis and Paul Jones, VINP concession specialists, pose with retired resource manager Rafe Boulon. (Source photo by Amy H. Roberts)

All were eager to see the new facilities that include offices for the Division of Resource Management, a conference/classroom space, a lab for processing archaeological artifacts, a secure area for archives, a dive locker, and housing for park employees and visiting researchers.

Members of the Love City Pan Dragons Youth SteelOrchestra set the tone for mornings festivities with a few familiar songs. (Source photo by Nancy Borowick)
Members of the Love City Pan Dragons Youth Steel Orchestra set the tone for morning’s festivities with a few familiar songs. (Source photo by Nancy Borowick)
A troupe of moko jumbies dance to the music of the Love City Dragons at the grand opening of the RMS Center on St. John. Mateo Nielson, 8, has been doing his moko jumbie training since March. (Source photo by Nancy Borowick)

They were greeted by the Love City Pan Dragons Youth Steel Orchestra, a troupe of dancing moko jumbies led by Yisrael Petersen, and later by bamboula dancer Raven Phillips and drummer Delroy “Ital” Anthony.

Delroy “Ital” Anthony performed the “Call of the Conch” at the start of the RMS Center’s grand opening day presentation. (Source photo by Nancy Borowick)

Following the blowing of the conch shell, and an invocation by the Rev. Anthony Abraham of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church, VINP Superintendent Penny Del Bene welcomed everyone to come and enjoy the facilities and introduced the speakers.

VINP Superintendent Penny Del Bene made her way around the room and greeted friends and colleagues, new and old, before the day’s events began on St. John. (Source photo by Nancy Borowick)

Mark Foust, Southeast Regional Director of the NPS, said he first set eyes on St. John after the hurricanes of 2017. “I’ll never forget the pain, or the heart and resilience of the people. There’s something special about the islands,” he said. “The path between the NPS and the people of St. John has not always been smooth or easy, and there’s no point in pretending it isn’t that way, but it takes grit and heart to bring this project to fruition.”

Former V.I. National Parks Superintendent Nigel Fields spearheaded the RMS project, as well as the renovation of the National Park visitor center in Cruz Bay. (Source photo by Nancy Borowick)

The keynote speaker was Nigel Fields who served as superintendent of the VINP for five years including the project’s early planning stages after the hurricanes, through the groundbreaking in 2022, until July 2023 when the walls, roofs, and windows were all in place.

Fields, who now works for the EPA, asked the audience to consider the amount of faith it takes to make changes and move forward on big projects.

He said that the Resource Management, Science and Collection Center (known as the RMS) replaced the old Biosphere Reserve Center — small wooden structures built in the same location in the early 1980s as the environmental movement was gaining momentum.

“We had to take the old Biosphere model and move it to address the climate change reality we’re all facing now,” Fields said.

Bioswales, these linear land and rock ditches, help to manage stormwater and cut down on disturbance to the land and park below. They are located in a few points around the new RMS at Lind Point on St. John. (Source photo by Nancy Borowick)
A dark sky compliant lighting design was installed for all of the structures at the RMS to minimize the “light spillage” effect on the environment. (Source photo by Nancy Borowick)

The ecological design features of the RMS include solar panels, bio swales and retention areas to control storm water runoff, dark sky lighting, and enough concrete to withstand winds exceeding 220 mph.

“We’ve learned a lot in the past 40 years,” Fields continued, as people have thought more about communication between citizens and the environment.  Unique spaces like the Virgin Islands National Park “should not be put on a shelf,” he said. “We have a special opportunity to open up these landscapes.”

Fields said that in the “old days,” artifacts were commonly removed from the sites in which they were found and stored elsewhere in an effort to preserve and protect them. Now the model calls for preserving artifacts in their context so that people who can interpret them can pass on their value to new generations.

While still needing to be filled up, the archeology lab at the new RMS on St. John displayed a handful of local artifacts. (Source photo by Nancy Borowick)
In the temperature and moisture-controlled archive rooms at the RMS in St. John you can find everything from old maps and fishing baskets to cabinets filled with local insects, like this container of V.I. butterflies. (Source photo by Nancy Borowick)

The new collections center at the RMS can accommodate 165,000 archaeological objects and 245,000 individual pieces in the archives.

“We’ve made a $30 million investment to keep these treasures here,”  Fields said, “for our young people to learn about sustainability and their own culture.”

Chief Ranger Ludric Smith followed up Fields’ speech by telling the audience that the project almost came to a halt twice.

The first time was when the plan was first proposed and then rejected by higher officials (under the previous federal administration). Local and regional officials then went back and worked with the Denver Service Center — the Park Service’s central location for planning and design — to revise the plan.

Then after the COVID pandemic hit, construction costs skyrocketed, and the plan had to be modified again.

Ultimately, the project’s costs came in about one million dollars more than was predicted in 2023 and about five months after the originally scheduled date.

Eric Cusin, an executive with J. Benton Construction, LLC, — the company that oversaw the RMS’ construction — said workers on the site racked up more than 200,000 hours on the job.

Jordyn Powell was invited to the grand opening of the RMS as a representative of the “future stewards” of the V.I. National Park and spoke passionately about her love and connection to the island. (Source photo by Nancy Borowick)

Some audience members became misty-eyed as Jordyn Powell, representing the “future stewards” of the park, recalled stories about her great-grand-uncle Noble Samuel, who served as a park ranger, senator, island administrator, and superintendent of the park in Christiansted. “He took Lady Bird Johnson snorkeling. It was in the January 1968 issue of National Geographic,” she said.

Powell said that the park’s mission is to maintain the “delicate balance to sustain our environment” as well as the “flavors and traditions” that are passed down for generations, so that her children can enjoy “watching the waterfalls at Reef Bay” and “speaking our dialect.”

Throughout the program, speakers checked the microphone and spoke of their hopes that the power would stay on. (St. John experienced multiple power failures during the previous week.) The new facility has solar panels “all over the roofs,” according to Cusin, but lacks back-up batteries in the event that WAPA goes down.

The solar panels provide power while the WAPA system is functioning, said Scott Simmons, the deputy superintendent for the VINP.  But back-up batteries will cost an additional $250,000, and the funding is not available at this time.

Taino Kasike Maekiaphan Phillips was joined by Kierra Krigger and her daughter Keilani to cut the ribbon, officially opening the facilities. (Source photo by Nancy Borowick)

In addition to the speakers, Taino Kasike Maekiaphan Phillips participated in the ribbon cutting and Pastor Reginald Joseph gave the closing prayer.