Francis Bay remained quiet last week after federal officials okayed opening part of V.I. National Park.
Entering the second week of the federal government shutdown, V.I. National Park continued last week with a skeleton crew with only beaches and trails that lead to beaches open to the public.
“For the most part, people are cooperating and there is nothing new in terms of anything that we’re doing different,” said VINP Chief Ranger Lloyd Morris. “Beaches are open and all trails that lead to beaches are open. But trails that don’t lead to beaches and facilities such as the Visitors’ Center, Peace Hill and Annaberg remain closed.”
When the federal government shutdown went into effect on Tuesday, October 1, VINP was officially shut down along with 401 other National Park Service properties across the country. Of the 50 VINP employees, 46 were placed on furlough, including VINP Superintendent Brion Fitzgerald. The only employees kept on staff were two enforcement rangers, VINP Deputy Superintendent Mike Anderson assigned as the point of contact for the park, and a ranger overseeing the VINP’s waste water facility.
While roads through VINP remained open, VINP enforcement rangers placed barriers and yellow tape across parking lots to keep people off the closed beaches. The barriers were quickly moved and the tape pulled down as many residents and visitors alike ignored the closure.
The move also meant the last minute relocation of weddings and the suspension of business on VINP land like snorkel tours, kayak tours and more.
As a protest movement against the beach closures grew on social media, Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen explained to federal officials the dire impact of closing VINP on St. John, where almost two-thirds of the island is NPS land.
V.I. Senator Tregenza Roach also called for the Department of Interior to open the beaches.
Hours before a planned “beach-party” demonstration at Maho Bay, set for Sunday, October 6, VINP officials got word that they were allowed to open the beaches. As word spread across St. John of the beaches being open, the planned protest turned into a beach party celebration.
With the beaches open, VINP lifeguards returned to Trunk Bay and other businesses were able to return to work as well, and weddings have resumed. While VINP beaches are open, Morris reminded residents that only beaches and trails that lead to beaches are open.