VINP Superintendent Mark Hardgrove thanks VINP Volunteer of the Year Jane Bowry at the Friends of VINP’s annual meeting on January 16.
V.I. National Park expanded its boundaries in 2010, completed several major projects and has a few more in store for 2011, VINP Superintendent Mark Hardgrove told about 75 people gathered at Cinnamon Bay Campground’s T’ree Lizard Restaurant for the Friends of VINP’s annual meeting on Sunday, January 16.
In his State of the Park address, Hardgrove highlighted some major accomplishments and thanked numerous partners who helped the park to accommodate the 1 million people who visited VINP and the Coral Reef National Monument last year.
National Park Service Invests $13 Million To Economy
“This year the NPS invested over $13 million into the local economy through the payment of salaries, contracts, projects, supplies, materials and utilities,” said Hardgrove. “That is $2 million more than last year. And that does not include the positive impacts having five NPS units has on the local economy, three of which are in St. Croix.”
The non-profit Trust for Public Land donated the 2.2-acre Nancy Cay parcel of land to the VINP last year and Estate Concordia officials granted visitors use of their access road, Hardgrove explained.
“This year TPL donated and the NPS accepted the 2.2-acre Nanny Point property at Estate Concordia,” said the superintendent. “This magnificent oceanfront parcel, which contains some incredible cactus gardens, is now part of your National Park. You can access it on the road by Concordia and enjoy the incredible resources out there.”
Maho Bay Camps Lease Extended
TPL also continues to work toward saving Maho Bay Campground and was able to convince the landowners to extend the lease for the popular eco-resort, which was set to expire this year, Hardgrove added.
“TPL is still in negotiations with the owners of the property now leased to Maho Camps,” said the superintendent. “If successful TPL will launch a major fund raising campaign to raise the funds for the acquisition, similar to what they did at Estate Maho Bay. The good news is that the lease which was to terminate last year, closing the campground, has been extended allowing the Maho Campground to continue to operate while negotiations continue.”
North Shore Shoulder Repair
Improvement and paving of North Shore Road was almost wrapped up in 2010, complete with speed bumps and a center line, Hardgrove explained.
“The North Shore Road paving project is 99 percent completed and totaled $5.2 million, only the last of roadway striping and directional arrows remain,” he said. “ Last week we were able to add $70,000 in repairs to road shoulders. This work will start next week as a modification to the project and add an additional 30 days.”
The year would not have been a success without the volunteers who supplied thousands of hours of labor to keep trails clear and ruins standing, according to the superintendent.
“This year volunteers donated over 15,000 hours in support of the NPS programs,” said Hardgrove. “Volunteer crews, some led by Jeff Chabot, worked on trails, signs, cleaned up beaches, cleaned roadsides and installed trail signs, removed vegetation from cultural landscapes, staffed our historic sites, archives, libraries, curation facilities, led park interpretive tours, and staffed visitor facilities including the Visitor Center in Cruz Bay.”
Monument Open for Permits
The park issued more than 100 commercial use permits and has started accepting permits for the Coral Reef National Monument after suspending commercial use in that area for several months, Hardgrove explained.
“We issued 101 Commercial Use Authorizations to local businesses, which provide necessary and appropriate visitor services and recreational opportunities such as day sailing, scuba diving, underwater photography, snorkeling, hiking, cultural and natural history walking tours, kayaking and weddings in the park,” he said. “Commercial Use Authorization Permits are being accepted for the Virgin Islands Coral Reef.”
The park continues to work towards renewing the concessions contract for Trunk Bay services and Cinnamon Bay Campground, the superintendent added.
New Concessions Contract Expected
“Renewed efforts are well underway for a new concessions contract,” he said. “The prospectus development process is for the Cinnamon Bay Campground and Trunk Bay concessions contract. With the new timeline, it is expected to have a new concessions contract awarded for these concession operations in Fall of 2013.”
“A new contract would provide a contract term of between 10 to 20 years, providing the new concessioner with financial stability to invest long term and make the much needed capital improvements to the Campground at Cinnamon Bay and snack bar and souvenir shop at Trunk Bay,” said Hardgrove. “That translates into an improved visitor experience. We are using our experiences at Maho Bay Campground and Concordia as our models.”
The National Park Service is close to finalizing a special use permit to allow the Department of Public Works to inventory a parcel of land in Estate Catherinberg as a possible site for a new elementary and high school on St. John, Hardgrove explained.
“The NPS is in the process of finalizing a special use permit to public works which will permit a resource inventory and analysis by conducting surveys of the Catherinberg property for a new school,” he said. “The Catherinberg property is located at the park boundary on Centerline Road. Survey work will also include a storm water management study.”
“This project was funded through a technical assistance grant in December 2007 by the Department of the Interior and is an eight month study, which should be complete this September,” said Hardgrove. “This is a feasibility study for the NPS to determine if the property holds nationally significant or other natural or cultural resources. As we continue to work, we’re looking at three to five years out if all goes well.”
Other VINP projects slated for 2011 include new lifeguard stands at Trunk Bay and the long-awaited renovations to the Maho Bay beach pavilion, according to Hardgrove.
Maho Improvements Funded
“Maho Bay pavilion was finally funded and I can’t wait,” he said. “The project includes new parking areas, new comfort stations, a new shade pavilion, new picnic tables and grills and the existing historic structure will be preserved and restored with the non-historic elements removed. And to the community thank you for your patience, I know this has been a long time coming.”
VINP continues to experience serious budget shortfalls and will be forced to do without three employees in 2011, according to Hardgrove.
“The most significant factor affecting a park’s ability to protect its resources and deliver visitor services is the funding a park receives from Congress,” said the superintendent. “With our operating shortfalls we are only able to fund 56 of the 76 authorized positions with our existing budget and as each of you know operational costs rise substantially each year on our islands. We have lost three more staff again this year.”
Maintenance Backlog Hits $17 Million
“In addition to staffing shortfalls, the park faces a maintenance backlog of $17 million just in front-country cultural resources and facilities at today’s costs,” Hardgrove said. “A full time project planner has been added to the staff to support the two to three million additional project dollars and continue to build five year plans for each NPS funding source.”
Looking ahead, VINP continues to work with government officials on a Cruz Bay waterfront plan, Hardgrove explained.
“We continue to participate in numerous important planning projects working along with the Governor, Delegate Christensen and Senator Barshinger looking into issues such as illegal immigration, waterfront planning, parking, transportation and other capital improvements,” he said. “Only with the necessary partnerships in the Virgin Islands can we move forward together. Planning and public scoping through community involvement will allow us to move forward at a pace that governments can follow.”
Cruz Bay Waterfront Planning Underway
“The Cruz Bay waterfront planning committee started work this year and the NPS is proud to be included in the planning opportunities working along with the Port Authority, USCG, U.S. Customs, DPNR, Housing Parks and Recreation, the Island Administrator and the community,” said the superintendent. “Our goal is to allow the community to speak to each issue so that alternatives can be developed, considered, and decided upon in an open forum and then task the responsible agencies with implementation and operational responsibilities.”
“A successful waterfront plan would benefit the economy of St. John by improving the visitor’s experience and island resident’s life by planning for parking in Cruz Bay and off-site parking at the pond,” the park superintendent added.
The waterfront plan will also allow VINP to take a look at transportation issues as it continues to support a North Shore shuttle service, Hardgrove added.
“This plan will also allow us to evaluate and consider traffic flow, pedestrian safety, boating access, and establish maintenance dredging partnerships for a long term maintenance dredge program in Cruz Bay,” he said. “We continue to encourage a scheduled hourly shuttle, during our visitor season on North Shore. If successful these services would be provided by our St. John taxis.”
“We have high hopes and with the leadership of Judith Wheately our Taxi Commissioner and our local operators we can be successful,” said the superintendent.