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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, July 19, 2024


A proposal to consolidate the National Park Service’s three St. Croix units with the V.I. National Park on St. John and the San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico is far from a done deal.
Paul Winegar, a Park Service spokesman for the Southeast Region based in Atlanta, said the proposed move is being considered as Wendell Simpson takes over as superintendent of the V.I. National Park. Simpson was named last week to replace Russell Berry Jr., who retired in July.
Winegar said there is no timeline for the proposal, which he called a "housekeeping" move aimed at increasing efficiency. "It’s just an idea being discussed," he said. "It may or may not happen."
Joel Tutein, superintendent since 1996 of the Park Service’s Christiansted National Historic Site, Buck Island Island Reef National Monument and Salt River National Park, said he has given his "very strong opinion" about the proposal to his superiors in Atlanta.
Prior to Hurricane Hugo in 1989, the St. Croix park units were managed by an on-island superintendent. But after the devastating storm and reduced visitation, Park Service officials folded the St. Croix operation into the V.I. National Park on St. John.
"We spent years under a general superintendent," Tutein, a Crucian, said. "Under the authority of St. John, the St. Coix park unit didn’t do very well."
Tutein said that until St. Croix regained its own superintendent, the national parks on the island saw very little funding. Finally, after a decade without budget increases, the St. Croix unit is now seeing more money. The base budget for St. Croix’s three units has gone from $500,000 in 1996, when Tutein arrived on the scene, to about $1.3 million for fiscal year 2001.
"We weren’t going anywhere," Tutein said of the St. Croix units in the early part of the ‘90s, "especially in Christiansted. It didn’t look like the Park Service owned it. Now it’s starting to look like a national park." He added, "We’ve done very well being autonomous."
Winegar said that, if the parks were consolidated, St. Croix would still have its own manager.
Meantime, Tutein said, the projects on St. Croix that started with the removal of a parking lot adjacent to Fort Christiansvaern will continue. Buck Island will see $400,000 in improvements, including a new dock, restrooms and picnic area, while several buildings in the Christiansted National Historic Site get revamped. Also in the works is the acquisition of more land at Salt River National Park.

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