The Agriculture Department has purchased a total of 212 acres of land on St. Croix through the Forest Legacy Program and the latest acquisition, 102 acres located in Estate Northstar that will eventually become part of a territorial park, was marked with a small celebration Friday.
Marilyn Chakroff, the Forest Stewardship Program coordinator in the Department of Agriculture, said the land acquired for the park so far is like the pieces of a patchwork quilt design.
“I’m excited because the land here in Northstar is strategically located and connected to land that is already Virgin Islands owned,” Chakroff said. Other purchases have included land in Estates Spring Garden, Annaly, Rosehill and Hamm’s Bluff.
The strategic importance is because Maroon Ridge runs right through the northwest part of St. Croix where a park is planed honoring runaway enslaved Africans in whose memory the area was named.
The land located in Estate Northstar is west of Cane Bay and before Rt. 69, known as the Beast by locals.
Chakroff said the land was owned by the Kripaln Trust, a commune in western Massachusetts that purchased the land in the 1970s for a retreat. The commune disbanded and the land went to members of the commune. Chakroff had to contact all the members or their relatives to get consent to sell. She said the offer to buy was made in December and they closed in May. The purchase price was $970,000.
Funds for the purchase of Forest Legacy property were awarded through the USDA – Forest Service – International Institute of Tropical Forestry, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Chakroff said an important part of the Forest Legacy Program is the requirement that funds awarded have a 25 percent local match. For all purchases to date, the match has been provided through a donation of land from The Nature Conservancy to the Trust for Virgin Islands Lands Inc., a local land trust organization.
The Forest Legacy Program is a federal program through which states and territories can request funds to help protect environmentally important forest areas that are threatened by conversion to nonforest uses.
Over the years, the department has applied for funds to purchase lands, or for conservation easements on lands, that were designated as priority areas for protection. The number one priority area in the U.S. Virgin Islands is northwestern St. Croix, according to Agriculture.
Agriculture Commissioner Louis Petersen said in remarks at the ceremony that the department is mandated to serve farmers and forestry programs.
Petersen commended Chakroff for her diligence and the hard work she put in to acquire the land. He added that the land acquired for the park will add to the economic health of St. Croix.
“We are working for generations to come – not only for today,” Petersen said. “The land tells the tale of our ancestors.”
Ariel Lugo, director of USDA Forest Service-International Institute of Tropical Forestry in Puerto Rico, said the land belongs to the public as long as it is conserved for perpetuity.
Veronica Gordon, of Clip Clop Tours and locally known as the “Bush Lady,” gave a dozen people a guided 30 minute hiking tour of the latest acquisition. Earlier in the day she left a small pile of local fruit for the spirits of ancestors. “I always leave a gift for the spirits.” Gordon said.
She told the hikers the land is in a young genip forest. She pointed out that there are a lot of locust trees, which are also called stinky toe trees and whose seedpods can be used medicinally.
There is a gut that runs through the land and, even though he was in dress clothes, Sen. Terrance “Positive” Nelson also took the hike.
Chakroff said eventually trials will be blazed and signs identifying trees will be put up. She said forestry legacy funds couldn’t be used for maintenance, so volunteers may have to step up in the future to maintain trails.