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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, June 12, 2024


July 17, 2003 – Delegate Donna M. Christensen has introduced a bill in Congress calling for a Department of the Interior feasibility study into designating St. Croix's Castle Nugent Farms, a working cattle ranch, as part of the V.I. National Park system.
Castle Nugent Farms, a breeding center for St. Croix's famed Senepol cattle for half a century, covers dry forest and pastureland rich in cultural resources predating the arrival of Christopher Columbus at Salt River in 1493, Christensen says. And some marine scientists believe the coral reef off the farm's shoreline is the largest and healthiest in the territory.
A 17th century Danish estate house stands on the land where the Senepol, prized for their ability to withstand hot climates and their docility, have long been bred.
Christensen says she sponsored the bill at the request of the farm owner, not the National Park Service. "It was a request from the family that owns the property, and they made contact with the Trust for Public Land," she says.
Caroline Gasperi, owner of Castle Nugent Farm, explains: "My family has had this property going on four generations … This property is a very historic ranch. It's one of the oldest working ranches in the West Indies. I think it would be something that the rest of the public would enjoy, and it protects one of the longest coral reefs in the Virgin Islands."
After years of working the ranch with her husband, who died in the late 1980s, and since then, Gasperi says, she is ready to retire. With word out that Castle Nugent Farms might be put up for sale, she says, "I've been approached by several people who would like to divvy up the ranch for wall-to-wall condominiums or more casinos."
But Gasperi says she also has heard from some of the folks who have visited the ranch and stayed at its guest house, and she has formed the impression that people like Castle Nugent the way it is. "The kind of people who come here don't want more casinos," she says. "They have casinos in their back yard."
She also says making her farm part of the V.I. National Park system might give the St. Croix tourist market the kind of advantage that has long been enjoyed by St. John, noting the number of people who visit the sister island to enjoy the park.
It is her hope that if an agreement can be reached to incorporate Castle Nugent into the park, provision will be made to preserve the Senepol cattle breeding program there. "It depends on how the park sees it," she says. "I think it would be nice to see a working, vital nucleus of these cattle to remain on St. Croix."
Even since St. Croix's tourist heyday ended with Hurricane Hugo in 1989, Gasperi says, visitors have continued to flock to Castle Nugent, in part to see the special breed of hot climate cattle that have since been exported to improve herds bred around the world.
According to Christensen, a feasibility study would include public comment on "whether this is a good idea or not," how much the park should be involved, what kind of structures the property would have as part of the park system and other issues.
Christensen says she believes the exploration process is important, given the controversy still simmering over President Clinton's executive order greatly expanding the Buck Island National Monument off St. Croix and creating the Coral Reef National Monument off St. John.
The V.I. government disputed the federal government's right to take the action in what it claimed were territorial waters. Fishermen have protested the restrictions that now keep them from taking fish in the designated areas, and some are threatening to sue the federal government over the matter.

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