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HomeNewsArchivesProcess Begins to Assess Castle Nugent Farms as Possible National Park

Process Begins to Assess Castle Nugent Farms as Possible National Park

June 13, 2007 — Castle Nugent Farms took the first step toward possibly becoming a national park someday at a public meeting Wednesday evening hosted by the National Park Service in Christiansted’s Old Post Office Building.
The public meeting was both an effort to receive public input and a public announcement of the beginning of a National Park Service study of the feasibility of the site as a park.
Several times in recent years, Delegate Donna M. Christensen has submitted a bill to Congress to study the feasibility of Castle Nugent Farms being designated a unit of the National Park System. The bill passed and the study has begun.
Castle Nugent Farms is on the southeastern shore of St. Croix. The proposed park site abuts the parcel by Great Pond slated for the Golden Gaming casino development and is roughly bordered by the Boy Scouts of America’s Camp Arawak, Estate Fareham and Ha’Penny Beach. At just under 1,400 acres, the property is the largest parcel of privately held land in the Virgin Islands and has been an operating cattle ranch for more than 50 years.
Two hundred and forty acres around the Gasperi family home are excluded from the proposed park area, as is a half acre around an existing boat ramp. Natural resources of Castle Nugent Farms include Caribbean dry forest, pristine coastal lands and the largest fringing coral reef in the Virgin Islands. Cultural resources include signs of pre-Columbian settlement and a large historic Danish estate house dating to the 1730s that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The meeting room was nearly full, with roughly 20 or 25 residents asking questions.
“Would you make it clear that submerged lands are not being considered as part of this?” Virdin C. Brown asked.
“It would take both an act of Congress and the cooperation of the territory to address submerged lands,” replied John Barrett of the National Park Service.
One resident expressed concern about whether the public would still be able to use the road.
“You have a national park right here in Frederiksted with a road going through it,” said National Park Superintendent Joel Tutein. “It is our belief the road is open access. The (Gasperi) family doesn’t own the road, and they can only sell what they own.”
Asked whether horseback riding and a bike path would be allowable within the park, Barrett said national parks generally have public access of many kinds, and the purpose of the public meeting is to get feedback to help create a plan suited to the wishes of the community. Tutein concurred.
“We don’t see how a bike path will be detrimental to a park,” Tutein said. “It doesn’t pollute or damage the park. Look at the example of Salt River. The enacting legislation makes no mention of recreational activities, but they have kayaking, scuba, swimming and so on inside the park.”
Much of the meeting was devoted to explaining the process leading up to a decision on whether or not to create a new national park. That process consists of the following steps:
— An initial public and stakeholder meeting. This is the current step and was the purpose of Wednesday’s meeting;
— Create a statement of the site’s national significance, as well as its suitability and feasibility as a park;
— Develop a preliminary preferred management alternative; a tentative plan for what sort of park the site should be;
— Hold more public and stakeholder meetings to present the preliminary-management alternative;
— Analyze the environmental impact of a park on the site;
— Produce a draft study on the environmental impact; and
— Present the environmental impact statement and the preferred alternative to Congress.
Congress can do whatever it likes at that point, but Barrett said it usually follows the recommendations of the study group fairly closely. The critical threshold for becoming a national park is demonstrating that the site has some unique historic significance, whether local, state, national or international, he said.
“What we might consider part of the story of the property is the development of the Senepol cattle,” said Park Ranger Zandy Hillis-Starr. “Something that is unique in the park system and not found elsewhere will have a lot of weight when deciding on the significance of the site. Is that a critical part of the story? You need to tell us.”
In response, shouts of “yes!” came from the audience.
At the close of the meeting, Tutein praised the Gasperi family for initiating the process.
“Caroline Gasperi and her family have been under tremendous pressure to sell these properties,” Tutein said. “But it is her wish to preserve the land. As you know, big land developers have bought a lot of land for casinos and such, and this could easily have gone that way as well. She could have sold it to the highest bidder, but she wants it available to the people in perpetuity.”
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