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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