This is an image of the Cinnamon Bay Archaeology Lab taken after Hurricane Maria in September of 2017

Within hours of the passing of Hurricane Irma the Friends began receiving letters, emails and calls from our members, many of whom share a deep appreciation for our park's unique and valuable cultural resources. We also had a great many people ask about the well-being of our park staff, such as longtime St. John resident and park archaeologist, Ken Wild. Along with expressing an interest in replacing the Archaelogy Lab at Cinnamon, many people wrote to share their a deep appreciation for Ken's many years of work spent building our park's archaeology program. We reached out to Ken to hear his thoughts in the wake of the storm - his reply is below. We thank Ken for taking the time to share his reflections with us, and look forward to being able to continue to support the park's archeology program, for generations to come!

 Just a few weeks before Irma hit a team of climatologists came and gave a presentation on what to expect from future super hurricanes. We took them to Cinnamon Bay and discussed what will be lost and what we had done to prepare for the inevitable.  

Twenty-five years ago I along with fellow archaeologist Regina Leabo of the NPS excavated a small test unit at Cinnamon Bay. What we found was astonishing and completely unprecedented. The dirt at the beach edge had unbelievable preserved in near exact sequence, century atop century the last 500 years of prehistoric life here in the Virgin Islands. While we were there we saw how Hurricane Hugo had just recently demonstrated just how threatened this shoreline and site were by erosion.  

So when the Friends asked in 1998 what was an urgent and critical need that they could help with; it was without question saving these pristine chapters of the Caribbean’s history.  So began the park’s archaeology program.  Over the next several years excavations continued nearly non-stop and though only a small portion of the site was dug what was saved was remarkable. We discovered Classic Taino culture was here with all its elaborate art. That the site was their version of a church where ceremonial offerings were made providing us an insight into the meaning of Caribbean petroglyphs, prehistoric life, and the extent of cultural interaction from Puerto Rico to Dominican Republic to  Antiqua, and along the shores of South America.

We also discovered that the little white house on the beach was one of the oldest standing structures in the Virgin Island’s dating back to the sixteen hundreds. All the while we knew time to share all this new knowledge about this historic place and ancient site was limited. So the Friends helped us create a working lab with archaeological exhibits. It was designed so that the artifacts could be removed quickly and we could continue to work and interpret these ancient sites before they would be lost forever.

Well the massive hurricanes came a little sooner than even the climatologists predicted and yes it would have been nice to have had a few more years to share these wonderful discoveries on site. Nevertheless, the NPS mission was achieved, we had saved what we could and interpreted to our community and visitor as much of this treasured past and special place as was possible.

Having objects made by the people and cultures that came before us on display, provided us a timeline of physical proof of our islands rich past, inspiring a new appreciation for our island’s heritage in both an older and younger generation and a desire to preserve these treasure for all to enjoy. Now we have that chance to create a truly special place where we can insure our heritage is safe for all to see.  

The Friends has funded the Archaeology Interns Program since 1998.  You can learn more by visiting the Program section of this website. You can also read more about archaeology in VI National Park on the Archaeology Program Interns' blog, here. If you are interested in contributing to our future archeology projects including the replacement of the Cinnamon Bay Lab, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


 

Can you believe it is December? Neither can we! These days the sun shines brightly and a cool breeze steadily blows from the east, making it a wonderfully comfortable temperature. The sentiment around town is positive - the 2017 hurricane season is officially over! Although most everything on St. John is in a state of repair, green leaves cover disjointed branches fully and the colors of the island are vibrant. Incredibly, all of our park's 27 miles of trails are open! The beaches Honeymoon, Hawksnest, Cinnamon and Trunk have all been serviced by the park, and are clear of debris in the water and accessways as well. 

Our emergency trail crew of 4 men and 1 woman began work under the supervision of our trail coordinator Mark Gestwicki in early November. Since then they have cleared L'Esperance, Maria Hope Trail, and Bordeaux, all of which had serious tree fall with very large trees down. Now they are going back to improve trail tread, drainage, repairing any masonry structures caused by tree fall, heavy rains, etc. To the left is a before and after shot of their work along the Maria Hope trail. Quite impressive! Currently, they are working on Lindt Point and Caneel Hill which have large debris from (relatively) nearby Lindt Point housing. Next up the Francis Bay walking trail and revisiting trails with spurs that need to be re-established. 

Along side our trail crew, the National Park disaster relief team has done their share of impressive work as well. Acting Park Superintendent Darrell Echols joined our board meeting to share park news and progress with us directly and answer any questions. He explained the 3-stage approach to disaster relief (assessment, stabilization and recovery) but added that VI National Park was exceptional in every way, and truly challenging. Over the past three months he and his colleagues from National Parks around the nation have worked in relay fashion picking up projects and passing the baton to the next relief crew. At one point 200 NPS employees were on island working to help assess and stabilize the park. The Army Corps of Engineers has also been working with NPS to remove road debris from the park.

Unfortunately, 12 of our VINP park staff were displaced by the storm. Out of the 22 park houses, 6 were totally destroyed and 13 were badly damaged. NPS will need to repair and restore housing for staff before they can return to work. Additionally, park offices and research labs were damaged. On December 16th the last of the incident crew will leave and our park will enter into the 3rd phase of restoration - recovery. NPS will be working to get water back on at Cinnamon and Trunk so that the concessionaire there can prepare to repair and open back up. Vessel removal, infastructure repairs and other big projects have been submitted to congress for approval.
We are really grateful for everyone's hard work in getting our park to the state it is now. Looking forward to sharing more positive updates soon! 




Cinnamon Bay Archeology Lab, September 2017 Photo Courtesy: Matt Gyuraki

Everyone on St. John will have a story to tell about Hurricane Irma. Many include harrowing tales of cats, dogs, and children hiding in small spaces. Almost two months later, although most families are reunited, many are relocated in various cities around the United States. This reminds us that it was not just trees that were uprooted by the storm, but families too. For the St. Johnians whose families have stayed together on St. John, there will also be life before and after Irma. There will be no family heirlooms to share, and they will have to find new landmarks around the island from which to tell their stories.

Our memories have always had to stand the test of time, but natural disasters wreak havoc on that equation. The Cinnamon Bay Archeology Lab, once the oldest structure on St. John, became a memory in a matter of hours as a result of Irma. The Reef Bay trailhead, easily identifiable by the trees and structures leading up to it, now appears unfamiliar. Its stone entry is eerily barren of foliage. These are simple, tangible examples of the destruction caused by the storm. Many more emotional ones will be recounted in the months and years to come.

As many locals can attest, the forests and coral reefs of Virgin Islands National Park looked particularly lush and vibrant this summer. Now we will watch them grow back with a mental benchmark based on our memory of them before Hurricane Irma. When will the turtles come back? What about the birds? These and many more questions are on all of our minds. Scientific research will need to be conducted to monitor the changed-environment.

Fortunately, nature is most often resilient. Already we see green leaves sprouting from the jagged edges of tree branches sawed off by the winds of Irma. People are amazingly resilient too. Although power is limited to just a few locations in Cruz Bay (as of this week) cornerstone businesses, like St. John Hardware, in the community have kept their doors open, almost from day-one after the storm. The local band Cool Sessions has played in the gazebo in the town square on multiple occasions, keeping in perspective the important things in life.

Likewise, the Friends staff came together almost immediately after the storm, poised to rebuild wiser and stronger. We have asked members like you for support and gratefully received your donations big and small. We held our first off-island fundraising event in New York City and had more than 150 guests attended! This week, our trail crews start restoration work. We are also giving back to the community that has helped us reach our mission year after year through community grants helping St. Johnians most in need.

In order to continue to meet the demands that the hands of time have dealt, we need your help. There is always a silver lining. It is up to us to define it! Please consider making a donation today online or by mail to aid in our hurricane relief and park restoration efforts. Together we will make the joy and beauty of Virgin Islands National Park more than a memory! 

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