By ANDREA MILAM St. John Correspondent

09.26.19

With their 30th anniversary celebrations behind them, the Friends of Virgin Islands National Park is looking ahead to the next 30 years, the nonprofit’s president Todd Sampsell told a group of residents at a Rotary Club of St. John meeting on Sept. 18. The organization marked 30 years in operation and the departure of its longtime president, Joe Kessler, at the end of 2018. The Friends has chosen a theme of “rediscovering our gifts” in 2019, Sampsell explained.

“The essence of who we are and what we do doesn’t change, but we’re entering a phase now where we need to think about resiliency, and redefining what is special about the VINP and our resources here,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re connecting more and more with St. Thomas, because we do have park amenities over there and we want to think about how to better utilize and connect people to that part of the park.”

The Friends works in tandem with the V.I. National Park to protect and preserve the park’s natural and cultural resources by supporting research, interpretation and preservation of those resources, as well as connecting visitors and residents to the park through education, volunteerism and advocacy.

“The thing I’m most excited about is connecting visitors to the park and the park to the community,” said Sampsell. “Education is one of the ways we connect people, and that connection is so important. We start young.

”To that end, said Sampsell, the Friends has long supported the VINP’s Learn to Swim program, which offers swimming lessons to children in summer camp programs. The Friends is looking to expand the swimming program into a year-round offering.

Sampsell also spoke on improving relations between the park and island residents, some of whom continue to be vocal about their opposition to tactics used during the park’s formation, including the federal government’s attempt to condemn St. John land for the park, and about the way the park affects various facets of life for St. John residents today.

“We recognize that St. John is made up of a diversity of various heritages, thoughts and lifestyles and we want to make sure our organization represents that,” said Sampsell. “I know that sounds funny coming from a white guy from the U.S. and I recognize that and I embrace that. I encourage us to always be thinking about how we can pull in various parts of the community that feel they haven’t always been embraced by the park and the Friends. We recognize the challenges created by a park that takes up two-thirds of this island. We don’t have all the answers, but we want to help this community rise to those challenges.”

Sampsell touted several of the Friends’ successes, including helping the park become an anchorless park with the installation of mooring balls in numerous bays, continuing to connect with local children despite the loss of the V.I. Environmental Resource Station during Hurricane Irma, and maintaining all 27 miles of hiking trails within the park.

The Friends works with an advisory council made up of business owners and residents who are interested in being more engaged, said Sampsell, who invited interested parties to join the council.

“We really look to that group to help advise our board, which is setting the direction and governance of the organization,” said the Friends president. “I welcome input from everyone. Just come and talk to me. I’m happy to buy coffee or lunch if you want to talk.”

Friends by the numbers

500 — number of volunteers per year who have donated their time to the Friends since the organization’s founding

300,000 — number of hours donated by those volunteers

$9.6 million — amount the Friends has invested in various projects over the last 30 years

$2.5 million — approximate amount the Friends has invested in cultural preservation, the largest portion of the nonprofit’s expenditures over the last three decades

The economic health and vibrant quality of life on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, relies on a healthy and accessible Virgin Islands National Park (VINP). Caneel Bay Resort has been an important part of the history of St. John and VINP. As we move forward, the Caneel Bay property must continue to support a diverse and successful St. John economy and a healthy island and marine environment. We must make important decisions today that respect our history and protect the future of VINP and the economy of St. John.

CBI Acquisitions, LLC is the current holder of a 40-year Retained Use Estate (RUE) established by Laurance Rockefeller and set to expire in 2023. In 2010, Public Law 111-261 was passed that would allow CBI Acquisitions, LLC, as the current RUE holder to enter into a non-competitive lease of Caneel Bay Resort for up to 40 years. This law set up a very favorable business situation and a term length unheard of in the National Park Service, but recent public statements and demands to the Department of Interior have shown that CBI wants more, including a $70M payment and release from any liability from environmental contamination in return for walking away from the RUE and the Caneel Bay property.

As the builder of Caneel Bay Resort and person responsible for the establishment of Virgin Islands National Park, Laurance Rockefeller felt the property, upon expiration of the RUE, should fall back under control of the Secretary of the Interior and NPS, “for the use and enjoyment by visitors to the park of the outstanding scenic and other features of national significance located both within the premises and in other areas of the park.”

Friends of Virgin Islands National Park (Friends) holds the position that Mr. Rockefeller’s wishes should be honored and that the Caneel Bay property should return to the control of the National Park Service and VINP for the benefit of all. This would allow NPS to employ the range of concession and lease options that are typically implemented in National Parks across the country. If CBI wishes to terminate the RUE prior to 2023, Friends supports granting that request. We do not support any payment to CBI as it is clear CBI has not taken steps to reopen Caneel Bay Resort since 2017. Further, CBI should be held accountable for any environmental contamination of the property, acquired or contributed. The Friends believes it is vitally important to restore and reopen the Caneel Bay property as expediently as possible, in a manner that ensures long term protection of park resources and long term protection of a critically important part of St. John’s economy. We also believe a community visioning process to discuss desirable amenities, public access provisions, and cultural and natural resource protections should be initiated as an important opportunity to engage the residents of St. John.

Friends of Virgin Islands National Park stands ready to support and assist NPS, local and national political leaders and the St. John community in seeing the Caneel Bay property restored and reopened. We will only support such courses of action that ensure long term protection of Caneel Bay’s natural and cultural resources and a business model that benefits VINP and the greater St. John community.

We further wish to thank local VINP staff for their hard work and dedication to the Park, St. John and St. Thomas. We encourage everyone to recognize that decisions about the future of Caneel Bay are not being made by local NPS staff, and we look forward to supporting and working with them to help ensure all of our voices are heard.

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

1. Is Friends of VINP party to discussions that may or may not be happening between the Department of the Interior and CBI or other parties interested in the property in Washington DC?

No.   We share the St. John community’s frustration regarding the lack of information about what discussions may or may not be taking place.

2. What is the Friends of VINP position on Caneel?

The Friends believes it is vitally important to restore and reopen the Caneel Bay property as expediently as possible, in a manner that ensures long term protection of park resources and long term protection of a critically important part of St. John’s economy.

3. What is the Friends doing?

Friends of VINP continues to work with local and national partners, like the National Park Conservation Association to keep abreast of any information that’s available. We have offered support to local and national decision makers in helping engage the St. John community to ensure our voices are heard. As new information becomes available, we will share it and call on our membership to support a position that ensures protection of the natural and cultural resources of the property and the economic vitality of St. John.

4. What can I do?

Contact your local and national representatives to make sure that they are doing whatever they can to ensure that both the economic and environmental concerns you and other community members have are heard.

 

Virgin Islands National Park News Release

 

Release Date: August 19, 2019

 

St John, VI – Virgin Islands National Park is announcing changes in visitor services provided by its concessioner at Trunk Bay Beach. Beginning August 26 2019, food and beverage service at Trunk Bay Beach will be limited to a mobile food truck as the retail shop and bar building is scheduled to close for renovations. The retail shop and bar service is expected to re-open in November, however the mobile food truck will continue to provide limited food service until a new snack bar facility is constructed in 2020. Visitors to Trunk Bay Beach are urged to exercise caution in and around the safety fencing which will remain in place until both facilities are completed. The Park and its concessioner, Cinnamon Bay Resort, apologizes for this inconvenience but recognizes this is an important step that will provide improved visitor services and facilities at Trunk Bay Beach. 

Snorkel rental services will not be affected and will continue to remain available to beach goers.  

Visit the park web page at www.nps.gov/viis

 

Click here to read the full press release from Virgin Islands National Park

Virgin Islands National Park Announces New Cinnamon Campground Operator and Immediate Cleanup for Redevelopment

"Virgin Islands National Park announces that Cinnamon Bay Campground and the food and beverage concessions at Trunk Bay will now be managed by CinnOpCo, LLC, fully backed by philanthropist and Bloomberg, LP co-founder, Thomas F. Secunda. The previous concessionaire, Redwoods Park Company, LLC and CinnOpCo have been working on an agreement for the past several months. On Friday, May 3, 2019 the National Park Service accepted the concessions change in ownership ushering in a new plan for redevelopment and restoring public access to camping in Virgin Islands National Park. CinnOpCo LLC aims to begin debris removal on Tuesday, May 7th.

Park Superintendent Nigel Fields expressed excitement on what this news means not only for Park visitors, but for the island of St. John. “With the level of damage Cinnamon Bay sustained in the 2017 hurricanes, the Park Service is fortunate to have an operator that is in tune with the people of St. John, has a history of conservation advocacy and is willing to make the investment needed to restore Cinnamon as a revered treasure of the national park system.” Although much cleanup, debris removal and rebuilding of the infrastructure remains ahead, Fields is optimistic in partnering with CinnOpCo and their shared vision to restore camping, cottages, food and retail service and watersports rentals back to Cinnamon Bay.

Superintendent Fields is urging the public to exercise caution when visiting Cinnamon Bay. Although the camping areas, restaurant, showers, and beach rental shop will remain closed, Park visitors will have continued access to Cinnamon Bay Beach and the onsite porta johns during this debris removal process. Visitors should adhere to posted safety signs.

Virgin Islands National Park News Release
1300 Cruz Bay Creek John, VI 00830
www.nps.gov/viis

Virgin Islands National Park U.S. Department of the Interior EXPERIENCE YOUR AMERICA ™ The National Park Service cares for special places saved by the American people so that all may experience our heritage. should not enter into restricted areas at Cinnamon Bay where workers, equipment and large trucks will enter and exit the site.

The Park and CinnOpCo, will continue to provide regular updates as the cleanup, restoration and rebuilding will likely occur in phases over the next couple of years. For additional information please contact Chief of Commercial Services, Elba Richardson via 340-776-6201"

 

 

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