July 13, 2004 – V.I. National Park Superintendent Art Frederick Monday night launched phase one of a project to give the park system a new comprehensive management plan within two and a half years.
Frederick, who became the park chief eight months ago, explained the current plan dates back to 1983 and its "useful life probably ended in 1995." He added, "This new CMP will provide a blueprint for stewardship of the park that will create a clear vision and direction for the next 15 to 20 years."
Monday's meeting, at the National Guard Armory on St. Thomas, was the first of several opportunities the public will have to give input to shape the future of the territory's national park system. Meetings also are scheduled for Cruz Bay and Coral Bay on St. John. The park system includes the main park covering much of St. John, more than 100 acres on Hassel Island in the Charlotte Amalie harbor, and Coral Reef National Monument off St. John.
Frederick outlined the strategy for producing the CMP. It will include several opportunities for public comment, exploration of various options based on input from park staff and the community, and a series of impact studies. He said a first draft of the document could be ready for public review by winter of next year, at which time residents will be invited to a second round of discussions.
"It's your park, not my park," Frederick said, stressing that while he feels "lucky to be the chief steward of these precious resources," the people of the Virgin Islands ultimately must look after the park.
Those from the community who provided input focused their comments on the future of Hassel Island. According to earlier Source reports, 133 of Hassel Island's 135 acres belong to the park. The signal tower, battery and garrison house belong to the local government. Additionally, a few parcels with houses along the shore are privately owned.
Dana Montenegro was born and raised on Hassel Island and, while not against the development of a viable park there, he wants to see it done "properly and smartly," and with a great deal of input from the island's residents. "It should be a resource for all of us, but it shouldn't be a theme park," he said.
St. Thomas resident Rik Van Rensselaer said he's been nursing a dream for the island for more than 20 years. He wants to see the old Creque Marine Railway, located on Hassel's western shore across from Frenchtown, refurbished and turned into a maritime museum. He also said he wants to see the remains of the Royal Mail Inn restored and possibly turned into a park services headquarters.
"Hassel Island has the potential to be a thriving urban park, much like Central Park in New York City," Van Rensselaer said.
Edward "Harmon" Killebrew said he holds a lease for 14,828 square feet at the top of Signal Hill on Hassel Island. Killebrew has long been anxious to see the island turned into a place where V.I. students can learn history and culture first hand so they can later serve as interpreters of the site for visitors. Killibrew, although often vocal about Hassel Island, kept his comments to a minimum on Monday, reminding the crowd that "everything everyone wants to do on Hassel Island is going to cost money."
Whatever the future of Hassel Island, Frederick made it clear nothing will be decided anytime soon. "This is the third CMP I've worked on, and I don't think it's going to happen" within the projected time frame, he said. Frederick was part of the CMP teams for the Blue Ridge Parkway and Cumberland Island National Seashore.
The St. John phase one meetings will be held on Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Julius Sprauve School in Cruz Bay, and on Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the John's Folley Learning Institute in Coral Bay.
Frederick said public input will be taken until Aug. 16. Interested residents can get the details on how to submit comments and ideas by visiting the V.I. National Park Web site.
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