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Public Weighs In on Castle Nugent Park

June 23, 2009 — National Park Service (NPS) planners presented preliminary management alternatives Tuesday at the first of two meetings at the Danish West India Guinea Company Warehouse (the old post office) on the proposed Castle Nugent National Historical Park.
"This is only a study, not a plan," said John Barrett, planner for NPS. "Nothing is authorized yet." He added that such a study normally takes three years and this study began in 2007. The actual plans for the park began in 2004.
Delegate Donna M. Christensen submitted in 2006 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 funding to proceed was approved.
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 indicators of a 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 land was used for the production of cotton. For the last 50 years it has been and still is an operating Senepol cattle ranch.
There are seven steps in the resource study that must be completed before it is transmitted from the Secretary of the Interior to U.S. Congress for approval. The study is currently in the fourth step.
Two dozen people had the chance to give input on the study and the three alternatives for protecting the resources of Castle Nugent Farms.
Two of the plans cover an expansive area of 2,900 acres that extends from Lowry Hill to Laprey Valley to the Caribbean Sea and from Manchenil Bay to Great Pond Bay. The only difference is plan B would be run from the Christiansted NPS headquarters and Plan C would have a stand-alone NPS operational headquarters on site. Both plans provides for a wide range of resource protection, interpretive and recreational opportunities. There is high potential for archaeological study and preservation and protection of watershed and barrier reef systems. These plans also include diverse open space.
"The open space allows for a large variety of visitor uses," Barrett says. "And with an onsite visitor station there is more human interaction and activity." He said public parking will be completed in the start-up.
Alternative Plan D is more moderate in all aspects and would consist of a 1,750-acre area extending from Lowry Hill and Laprey Valley to the shoreline at Spring Bay to Fareham Bay with support provided by the Christiansted headquarters.
"With this plan there is a moderate range of interpretive and recreational opportunities," Barrett said. There is still potential for archaeological study but there is moderate diversity of open space. Covered under this plan would be a smaller watershed system with less shoreline.
The general consensus with stakeholders at the meeting was to go with the expansive plans as a number of people in the audience said "go with plan B or C."
Joel Tutein, V.I. National Park superintendent, said the plan is to capture as much of the boundaries as possible this time around.
Lawrence Lewis, special assistant to the University of the Virgin Islands vice provost, said he favored the expansive plan. UVI extension service does research and breeding of Senepol in the area.
"The largest plan would preserve the most land and create a buffer zone to protect the park from development," said Ron Morse, VINPS chief of facilities management.
"The wonderful thing would be to protect the larger area," Barrett said.
Another meeting is scheduled for Wednesday night from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the warehouse location, 2100 Church Street, Christiansted.
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