V.I.N.P. Officials Unveil Alternatives for New General Management Plan

Residents vented frustrations and voiced strong opposition to backcountry camping at two National Park Service (NPS) meetings on St. John last week. National Park Service (NPS) officials unveiled preliminary alternatives for a General Management Plan (GMP) for both the V.I. National Park (VINP) and the Coral Reef National Monument (CRNM) at meetings in John’s Folly and Cruz Bay on May 3 and 4.

Guide for 15 to 20 Years
The new GMP will guide the park for the next 15 to 20 years. The GMP planning team includes officials from the NPS regional office in Atlanta, local VINP officials and Alyse Getty of Parsons, an environmental consulting firm contracted by the NPS to write the document.

The GMP drafting process started more than two years ago with a series of meetings and a public comment period.

During that time, the planning team received about 850 comments from the public at large which they analyzed and used to create four preliminary alternative plans for the VINP ranging from a “no action” plan to a conservation-minded plan.

There are also three alternative plans for the CRNM.

The alternative plans are intentionally broad-based in order to be able to last for the next 15 to 20 years, according to VINP Superintendent Art Frederick.

“This is a very complex and complicated project,” Supt. Frederick said. “Don’t concentrate on what we’re going to do, concentrate on the alternatives—that is very important.”

“The alternatives are what drives this document,” Frederick added. “We’re not about site-specific issues at this time. We are focused on broad-range practices.”

Five Zones
Each of the four plans for the VINP include five zones—the Visitor Contact and Operations Zone; the Recreation Zone; the Nature and Heritage Zone; the Resource Protection Zone; and the Backcountry Experience Zone. Facilities and visitor experiences differ in each zone, and the zones are spread out differently in each of the alternatives.

Zones for the CRNM include a Marine Resource Zone; a Nat-ural Resource Zone for over-night use; and a Natural Resource Zone for day use.

The level of access, the number and types of facilities and the level of outreach, partnering and education were the three issues on which the planning team focused. Each of the alternatives discusses these three issues in comparison to the other alternatives.

No Action Plan
For the VINP, Alternative A is the no action plan, which basically maintains the current level of access, outreach and the same facilities.

NPS officials explained they are required by the National Environmental Policy Act to include this alternative in the GMP planning process.

Alternative B for the VINP includes an “increased variety of experiences and provides for greater access while maintaining features that are similar to Alternative A,” according to information provided by the VINP.

Anchoring in existing locations would be maintained under Alternative B, but the plan also allows for the installation of about 10 to 15 additional moorings. This alternative also calls for construction of new facilities including designated backcountry camping sites, new trails, roads and facilities.

No Specific Sites
There are no current plans for specific sites for the new trails, roads or facilities—Environmental Assessments and public meetings in the future would determine that information. This alternative only allows for the possibility of such expansion.

Tearing down the Cinnamon Bay Campground is the biggest difference presented in Alternative C. Instead being a Recreation Zone, the Cinnamon Bay campground area would be turned into a Nature and Heritage Discovery Zone, eliminating the ability to camp.

Camping in the “backcountry” would replace the camping currently allowed at Cinnamon Bay.

Alternative C is based on a concept of “providing less variety of visitor experiences and access than Alternative B,” according to Getty.

The alternative also calls for the installation of an additional 15 to 19 moorings.

Alternative D, the most “conservation-minded,” basically reduces access compared to the other alternatives and includes a much larger backcountry zone—incorporating remote southern and eastern park sites—than the other alternatives.

This alternative calls for eliminating all anchoring throughout the park except for emergencies, while allowing for the installation of 19 to 23 additional moorings. Increased opportunities for backcountry camping is another aspect of this alternative.

Day-use and Overnight-use Alternative A for the CRNM is also a no action alternative, similar to the one for the VINP. The only major difference between Alternatives B and C is that Alternative B does not allow for overnight anchoring in Hurricane Hole and Alternative C does.