April 16, 2006 — Individuals from nine different community organizations came together in March to form a movement and do something the government has been unable to do: establish a V.I. Maroon Sanctuary Territorial Park on the northwest quarter of St. Croix.
The new group is called the St. Croix Community Action for a Maroon Park (St. Croix CAMP).
The park they envision includes the Maroon Ridge and adjacent watersheds. The rugged land enclosed between rain forest and rocky coastline is known not only for its scenic beauty but also for its historical significance — runaway slaves found refuge here between 1650 and 1800. There are reports of villages of "maroons" living in the wild area during the period.
The timing of CAMP's effort was without doubt instigated by plans announced in December to develop that area of the island (See "Developers Propose Major Resort for St. Croix").
The development by Throgmartin Company, valued at more than $500 million, would include three hotels and encompass more than 2,500 acres.
Carol Burke, executive director of St. Croix Environmental Association, one of the groups involved with CAMP, said Friday that the park would be "incompatible with the development."
The property is already zoned for development but because of deed stipulations, developers will be required to leave more than 70 percent of the land undeveloped.
Most of the land is inaccessible except through hiking trails. Part of the development agreement with Throgmartin would have the government repairing Scenic Drive.
Paul Chakroff, director of the local chapter of the Nature Conservancy, presented an alternative to Throgmartin's development plan at a town meeting at the St. Croix Educational Complex in late March. The Nature Conservancy has signed on as part of the CAMP effort.
It was at that town meeting that Olasee Davis mentioned the significance of the area in the history of slaves' struggle for freedom.
He said the area had been studied by the U.S. National Park Service for inclusion in its Underground Railroad sites. He added that by establishing an educational and research center, visitors could better understand the story of the Underground Railroad, the network which helped many slaves escape to freedom.
In an April 13 opinion piece in the V.I. Daily News, Davis outlined the efforts of CAMP. He wrote, "Petitions are being circulated and signatures are being collected by a group called CAMP that recently organized to educate the public about the cultural, historical and natural aspect of Annaly and Wills bay areas. The petition states: 'We the undersigned believe that establishing the Maroon Territorial Park is the best and wisest method of preserving and managing the outstanding cultural, historical, educational, economic, ecological, recreational and spiritual values inherent to the northwest quadrant of St. Croix, including Maroon Ridge, Hams Bluff, Annaly Bay, Maroon Hole, and Wills Bay, all which fall within the Hams Bluff and Hams Bay watersheds.'"
Petitions can be picked up at the SEA office in Gallows Bay or the Frederiksted Economic Development Association office in Frederiksted.
Members of the group met in early April to determine whether it should seek official nonprofit status. Besides SEA and the Nature Conservancy, the groups members represent Cultural Heritage And Nature Tourism; Frederiksted Economic Development Association; History, Culture and Tradition Foundation; Missionary of the Soil; Per Ankh; St. Croix Hiking Association; and the USVI Coalition for Sustainable Development.
At its March 21 press conference, the group emphasized that it was not anti-development but advocated development that "serves to foster sustainable economic development and cultural, historic, and ecological preservation."
Another objective of the group is to educate the public on the significance of the Maroon experience in particular and the area's cultural and natural history in general.
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