I have been advocating for our focusing on Agri-Eco Tourism, for years. My involvement began as a board member on Farmers In Action (FIA) 1999, when we lobbied for support and funding for the restoration of the Estate Bethlehem Sugar Factory. Our goal was to resurrect the sugar factory and the estate into a world-class showcase of how things were when Sugar was King.
The Windsor Estate, a government owned Dept. of Agriculture property is a prime location like the Bethlehem Restoration project could serve as a centrally located Agri-Eco showcase with permanent and rotating venues. Hiking trails on site showcasing our agricultural history and environment would be an added attraction.
At present, I am serving as a board member on the St. Croix Hiking Association (STXHA), and I have served, on the VI Urban Community Forestry Council (VIUCFC), the St. Croix Environmental Association (SEA), and I am a volunteer with the US National Park Service (USNPS) as a hiking guide for school children. This experience has given me a lot of insight into what I feel would be a good agricultural and ecological tourism package to offer visitors and ourselves.
At a conference I attended, held here 14 years ago sponsored by the Dept. of Tourism, the theme was, “The Small Businesses and the Cruise Ship Industry,” the guest speaker from National Geographic spoke about creating a global appeal that would attract visitors to your shores. Her message, “Do it for yourselves, and the World will come to enjoy it with you.”
As a member of STXHA, over the past 18 years to date, Martinique has been the only major island we have not visited. Every year we take our annual off-island tours spending tens of thousands of dollars to hike and to explore our neighboring Caribbean Islands. We are literally paying to walk around other people’s property.
Every year we have had a World-class agricultural fair that we could replicate with livestock, plots of crops, permanent and rotating educational exhibits, and hiking / biking trails with signatures. Year after year, I have judged the educational exhibits, some of these projects are economically sound. The winning projects should be rotating exhibits that could be viewed during student field trips and by visitors.
The one student project that stood out, which could have been developed, was an amusement park with rides, with an agricultural theme, with seats and carriages shaped like fruits and vegetables. During that same year the metalworks vocational students were recycling parts from old cars, lawn mowers, using fiberglass to create go-carts. My suggestion back then was that this would be an excellent educational and profitable collaborative effort, which could also become an export product.
I hope that some of my comments will serve to support this effort.
Ivan Butcher II, St. Croix