Oct. 16, 2003 – The V.I. National Park's new superintendent told members of Rotary East that steps must be taken to get the property off the list of the country's "10 most endangered parks."
Art Frederick said this status of the park he now oversees has been a cause of great concern since he began his duties in the territory three weeks ago. He also said it will be largely up to the people who live in the Virgin Islands to take the initiative toward preservation of the natural resources found within the park's boundaries.
"If we allow this decline to continue, not only do we lose a wonderful resource; we lose a part of ourselves," Frederick said at a Wednesday dinner meeting of the Rotary club at the Ritz-Carlton Resort.
The V.I. National Park includes not only the extensive St. John acreage, including underwater holdings, but also a part of Hassel Island in the St. Thomas harbor.
The park received its endangered designation from the National Parks Conservation Association in January. It's ranked No. 9 on the list. The association cited loss of natural habitat, encroaching development, over-fishing and careless boating as causes of various problems plauging the park. Those problems, the association says, threaten coral reefs, marine life, migratory birds and native wildlife.
Also on the list are Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas, Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska, Florida's Everglades National Park, Glacier National Park, also in Alaska, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park of Tennessee, Joshua Tree National Park of California, Ocmulgee National Monument in Georgia, Shenandoah National Park and Yellowstone National Park — the most famous in the U.S. park system.
Frederick said he's willing to help bring about the reforms needed to stem the harm being done to the park, but he cannot do it without local support. He suggested Virgin Islanders support the park with their own best interests in mind. It is "truly an economic engine within this community," he said. "We have to deal with some of those impacts."
He also said he expects some solutions to come from two intiatives under way — a transportation management proposal which should be made public soon, and a long-term park management and development plan addressing operations for the next 20 to 25 years. He warned that some parts of the development plan may prove distasteful but gave no specifics.
In recent years, the park has developed, with extensive opportunities for community input, and then implemented a Commercial Services Plan, a Vessel Management Plan, feral animal control plans and, most recently, Interim Rules and Regulations for the Coral Reef National Monument off St. John. All have generated controversy within the local community.
Frederick told the Rotarians: "It's not my park. I've been appointed to be a steward over those resources, but it's actually your park, and I need to hear from you."
The development plan involves "long process, about three years," he said. "There's going to be some tearing of flesh and you-name-it. There will be public meetings, and everyone is going to want everything out of this, and some things they're not going to want. But it will give you the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process."
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