This year Americans are celebrating the 150th anniversary of Yellowstone National Park, established on March 1, 1872, as the first national park of the United States. It was Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president of the United States (1869-1877), who signed the Yellowstone Protection Act into law for “the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”
With that being said, I am writing a letter to the people of the Virgin Islands to request the preservation and protection of our culture with the creation of the U.S. Virgin Islands Maroon Territorial Park in the Northwest Quarter of St. Croix.
The northwest, or “Maroon Country,” is threatened by indiscriminate development that would forever change the historic landscape culturally, historically, naturally, and archaeologically while destroying the pristine marine wilderness area. This will be the first of several articles explaining why the northwest and its sacred lands are embedded in the history and culture of the people of the Virgin Islands. It is a history that connects us to the wider Caribbean region as well as to Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Britain, Spain, and the Knights of Malta before the Danish West Indies were purchased by the United States in 1917.
For more than 30 years, I have been educating the Virgin Islands public and the global community about the value of preserving the northwest forest and coastal wilderness area. It was the last refuge of enslaved Africans fighting for their freedom in the Danish era. I have protested, testified at public hearings, and taken thousands of people, locals and visitors alike, to the site. I have written many articles on the area, worked with many national and international students as well as locals, teachers, professors, and researchers, such as anthropologists, and even wrote a letter to the Rockefeller family who once owned the property to request assistance in the preservation of the area.
In 1998, Karl Knight, now the chief of staff to Gov. Albert Bryan Jr., accompanied me for his first visit to the area along with a large group of Crucians who traveled to the northwest to physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually recreate the journey into our ancestor’s realm. As a result, the large Crucian group was inspired by their experiences of walking the same path of runaway slaves and learning the natural and cultural history of the area. Thus, the St. Croix Hiking Association was established, with Knight being one of the founders.
Believe me, Karl of all people should know how significant the northwest is to the people of the Virgin Islands. Since Gov. Bryan has been in office, what is his record on the environment, particularly cultural preservation that reflects our history and its people? This is a great opportunity for the governor himself and government at large to stand with the people of the Virgin Islands to preserve the northwest in perpetuity. I am not a politician. I am an ordinary citizen looking out culturally and ecologically for the best interests of the people of these islands.
In 2005, the St. Croix Action for Heritage Economic Development, known as SUCCEED, was established, of which I am a member. Our goal is to educate the public about the northwest and to brand St. Croix as a heritage tourism destination. A few years ago, SUCCEED came up with a petition to make the community aware of how important it is to preserve the northwest corner of St. Croix as a Maroon sanctuary.
Here is part of the petition: “We the undersigned believe that the establishment of the Maroon Territorial Park is the best and wisest method of preserving and managing the outstanding cultural, historical, educational, economic, ecological, recreational, and spiritual values inherent to the Northwest Quadrant of St. Croix, including Maroon Ridge, Hams Bluff, Annaly Bay, Maroon Hole, and Wills Bay, all of which fall within the Hams Bluff and Hams Bay watersheds.
“The Maroon Territorial Park will honor the heroic spirit of enslaved Africans who affirmed freedom and human dignity by flight, struggle, and the creation of independent communities. Its establishment will also contribute substantially to economic and community development by creating a unique, sustainable tourist attraction reflective of St. Croix’s distinctive history and heritage.
“Moreover, the park would fulfill legislative mandates under 1) Title 32 of the Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 2 & 21 & 22, establishing a Territorial Park System for the Virgin Islands; 2) Virgin Islands Act No. 4881 Section 3, which dedicated a 1,000-acre perpetual scenic and preservation easement lands of St. Croix, Northwest Quarter, including Annaly Bay, Wills Bay and neighboring lands; and 3) Title 32 of the Virgin Islands Code Chapter 2A & 31 & 33, establishing a Territorial Park Trust Fund.
“Accordingly, we hereby petition the Government of the Virgin Islands to move aggressively toward the establishment of the Maroon Territorial Park by 1) enacting enabling legislation; 2) appropriating funds; and 3) working with current landholders, interested private parties, and Federal agencies to secure, or otherwise preserve in perpetuity, the land and around the Hams Bay and Hams Bluff watersheds.”
If we are talking so much about the culture and history of these islands, let us as a people create a Maroon Park that embodies all of us. It is the right thing to do in creating a park on the northwest side of St. Croix in honor of those that shed their blood for freedom that we today take so much for granted. Yellowstone didn’t become a national park on its own. It took men like Ferdinabd Vandiveer Hayden, Lt. Gustavus C. Done, Thomas Moran, and other explorers of the west to help establish the first park of our nation.
I encourage our governor to do the right thing by establishing the first territorial park of the Virgin Islands. The Virgin Islands can become the first place in the Caribbean where such a site as a Maroon Park is established. I am asking the people of the Virgin Islands to write to your local media, newspapers, senators, etc., and raise your voices to make Maroon Park a reality. Let us all as a people make this park happen for our children and the children to come.
– Olasee Davis is an Extension Professor/Extension Specialist in Natural Resources at the University of the Virgin Islands who writes about the culture, history, ecology and environment of the Virgin Islands when he is not leading hiking tours of the wild places and spaces of St. Croix and beyond.