Rebuilding Stronger and Wiser

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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