I offer thoughts to the National Park Service about rethinking Caneel Bay as considerations are weighed on how to go forward with the property.
My late wife and I had a home on St. John for 30 years. I saw Caneel as a lovely part of the island that was off-limits to those of us who lived there, an enclave for the wealthy elite. It was both close and remote, certainly not welcoming to those of us with homes on the island.
We need to preserve the land and its possibilities for becoming an agrotourism site that would offer good jobs to St. Johnians, and recreational opportunities for all. I would like to see archeologists invited to explore the material history of the area, and cultural historians to research the lives of all who have lived there since the first humans put their footprints in the sand. There should be a museum at Caneel Bay where the works of the archeologists and cultural historians can be displayed, along with art work of historic and contemporary significance, and other exhibits celebrating the lives of the people who have lived on St. John. Central to this would be the history of enslavement and the lives of those who were kidnapped and brought to plantations that resemble what we now call concentration camps. The University of the Virgin Islands would be an ideal partner in such a museum, which could include spaces for regular classes, bringing the intellectual life of the University to St. John.
The greatest challenges historically with access and operations at Caneel Bay are obvious. The ultra-privacy and elitism of the resort resulted in Caneel being a property that was socially and economically walled off from the general population. In its latter days, the resort even charged people to park there. The land at Caneel Bay is part of the National Park. The National Parks belong to the people. Historically, since becoming a Rock Resort, Caneel Bay has excluded all but the most privileged people.
I believe the greatest opportunities for Caneel Bay lie in free and open use of the land, combined with programs and facilities designed to provide dignified work for park employees, educational and cultural resources for all St. Johnians and visitors to the island.
I can imagine the most arable land being used for growing food crops, Caneel becoming a site for programs that might inspire similar small-scale agricultural developments in other parts of other islands. Here again, the University could play a major role in helping the Caneel programs further our growing interest in economic and social justice, in food security, and in helping the people of the Virgin Islands become less dependent on the importation of food than they currently are.
Agrotourism would attract tourists eager to pay to stay there to help with the farming and in return also enjoying the recreational opportunities Caneel would offer. National Parks belong to and are for the people. Caneel Bay has been for the wealthy elite. Let us return it to the people; make it a place where the people can prosper and delight.