Volunteer Effort Keeps VINP Safe for Residents, Visitors

Volunteers pause for a photo at a recent outing to Annaberg, where maintenance work is being done on a regular basis.

The next time you’re hiking on a V.I. National Park trail, take a moment to stop and look around. The trail you’re hiking does not stay safe and passable on its own, and the historic ruins you’re admiring do not maintain themselves — the VINP’s resources are kept up to par for residents and visitors alike by volunteers led by Volunteer Coordinator Jeff Chabot.

Volunteer work crews head into the park every Thursday and Saturday morning, and anyone is welcome to join the effort.

“On Thursdays, we’ve been working on clearing the slave hut area on the north side of Annaberg and the overseer’s house on the south side of Annaberg,” said Chabot. “We’ll probably complete that in a week or two, and then move on to other ruins on that end of the island. On Saturdays, we’ve been doing erosion work on the Lind Point Trail, doing rolling grade drips and putting in stone steps where needed.”

St. John Needs Work
Chabot, who has spent time in Acadia National Park in Maine which has a strong volunteer program, saw the need for something similar on St. John. The retired volunteer coordinator started the Love City program one year ago.

“St. John needs a lot of work and it doesn’t get the attention it should because it doesn’t have the workers it needs,” said Chabot. “The program in Maine is something people really look forward to doing year after year on their vacations to Maine. It’s great to be involved and give something back to the parks, and that’s what I’m really trying to foster here — some enthusiasm from local people, purveyors and visitors.”

The VINP volunteer program began with work crews on Saturdays only, until Chabot realized Saturday is a big turnover day for tourists — the program’s biggest supporters — and Thursdays were added to the schedule. Also currently limiting the volunteer effort is transportation.

Chabot has arranged to borrow a VINP Maintenance Department vehicle on Thursdays, when he picks up volunteers at Cinnamon Bay and Maho Bay Camps, allowing him to transport five to six volunteers. While Chabot has not been able to secure a vehicle for the Saturday work crew, he’s ordered a 15 passenger van through the Park Service, which he expects to arrive on island this summer.

In the meantime, St. John Administrator Leona Smith has offered to allow the volunteers to use her van — as soon as new parts arrive and the vehicle is fixed.

Trails Dangerous Without Volunteers
Despite its limitations, the program has proved rewarding for those who volunteer, explained Chabot.

“Everybody who does participate is ecstatic that they’re able to come out and give something back to the park,” he said. “It’s a great way of giving back, especially for people who like nature and hiking trails and enjoy seeing ruins.

Mother Nature is relentless in fighting us and trying to take these things back if we don’t continually step in and try to take care of them.”

Without the volunteer effort, trails would become dangerous due to erosion and rocky rubble, and ruins would completely disappear into the vegetation, Chabot added.

The volunteer coordinator has stepped up his efforts to get the word out about the program with a poster series distributed at two dozen key spots across St. John, and he’s asked villa management companies to include the activity in their information packets at each villa. Cabot also spoke with activities directors at Caneel Bay Resort and the Westin Resort and Villas in an effort to include the volunteer days in the resorts’ list of local activities.

While some people may think it’s a good idea to clear brush away from ruins or spruce up hiking trails on their own, Cabot cautions would-be do-gooders that such work should actually be led by a trained professional.

Don’t Clear Brush Alone
“I have been coached extensively by VINP Archaeologist Ken Wild on how to trim and carefully clear around historic ruins so we’re not disturbing the grounds, artifacts or any of the delicate mortar structures,” said Cabot. “I spend quite a bit of time coaching people before we get started on each work party.”

Anyone interested in volunteering in the VINP should meet at the maintenance department parking lot next to Mongoose Junction on Thursday or Saturday morning at 8 a.m. Volunteers are also picked up at 8:15 a.m. at Cinnamon and 8:30 a.m. at Maho on Thursdays. Tools, water and gloves are provided, and volunteers are asked to wear proper footwear. The work day lasts approximately four hours. For more information, call the Friends of the VINP at 779-4940.