A U.S. Senate subcommittee took up a proposal Wednesday that would designate all of St. Croix a National Heritage Area.
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Subcommittee on National Parks hearing “brings us even closer to the bill becoming law,” said Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett in a statement Thursday.
If passed into law, the measure would establish a Historic Preservation Office on the island to identify sites and activities of historical and cultural importance, according to the bill, which was first introduced to the House of Representatives in 2006 by USVI Delegate Donna Christian-Christensen. The office would consult with local Crucians to best put forth the island’s unique history.
Plaskett reintroduced the bill in 2021, saying it was a way to leverage the island’s natural and historic resources for increased, relevant, and culturally appropriate economic development. The designation would make the island eligible for $1 million in federal grants a year for 10 years.
“National Heritage Areas are places where natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, important landscape and tell nationally important stories that celebrate our diverse heritage,” Plaskett said.
Plaskett’s office said the National Park Service spent four years studying the feasibility of a St. Croix National Heritage Area. In 2010 the Service came away saying it was worthy of recognition.
St. Croix has nearly 50 designated National Register of Historic Places and many more sites with potential, Plaskett’s office said. The distinctive natural, cultural, historic, and scenic resources are “building blocks” that contribute to the overall heritage of the nation, they said.
Unlike a historic preservation area where landowners must apply for permission to alter buildings or develop land, the National Heritage Area bill specifically outlines it won’t change property owners’ rights or local authorities’ abilities to manage public lands.
Christensen held a series of town halls to promote and explain the plan in 2008. She said the demarcation would expose the world to St. Croix. Likewise, she said it was important for Virgin Islanders to be involved in the plan.
“This is the opportunity to participate ourselves. We want to make sure we don’t exclude anyone — we are reaching out to everyone,” Christensen said in 2008