As a conservationist, it can be a burden at times when you’ve tried your very best to protect these islands’ cultural, natural, historical, and marine resources. It is not so much a matter of protecting the resources. It is rather managing the resources and setting aside the unique historic landscape of the cultural, natural, and marine resources for future generations and for the future of these islands.
I can understand the late native naturalist George A. Seaman’s burden for these islands’ environments. Seaman was well known in the world of science and conservation for his scientific contribution to the wildlife of the Virgin Islands.
He was born during the Danish West Indies era of the islands. Yet with his works that he left behind in books, scientific literature, research projects, speeches, etc., from his perspective as a wildlife protector of these islands, Seaman’s vision can still impact how we grow and develop these islands without destroying what makes them so special in this region of the world.
Believe me, with all of Seaman’s efforts to educate our government, especially politicians, he left St. Croix, his native soil, with a broken heart and lived in Saba for the rest of his life because our government showed no meaningful effort to protect these islands’ precious natural resources.
In the 1950s, Seaman asked Gov. Morris de Castro for a salary raise, being the principal wildlife officer for the government of the Virgin Islands. The governor responded to Seaman and said, “You don’t seem to realize, you are the only man in government that is being paid for his hobby.” Seaman said he never got to first base with our government. They were not interested in protecting our cultural and natural resources. Seaman died at almost 100 years old and probably bitter for his love for these islands’ environments not being preserved.
I hope I won’t become bitter like Seaman. In 1949, when Seaman returned home to St. Croix to visit his sick mother, the governor asked him to be the Supervisor of Wildlife for the territory. Like Seaman, my love for these islands’ environments is why I returned home from school, keeping my promise to the late Gov. Cyril E. King to give my two-cent piece back to my community. It was 17 years ago that I worked on a project with the Gasperi family, a local family, federal and local government agencies, non-profit organizations, and individuals where the family wanted their large holding of land for the people of the Virgin Islands to enjoy in perpetuity.
My cousin, the former Delegate to Congress Donna Christian-Christensen, can tell the history of when she introduced the bill in Congress to help establish the Castle Nugent Farms as part of the National Park System. Did it happen? That is a follow-up article. It is a history that I can write several books on. Nevertheless, the Gasperi family have contributed greatly to the Virgin Islands community for decades and to the world of the rich cattle industry of St. Croix. At that time, the property encompassed some 1,750 acres of the 2,900-acre land area of the southeast shore of St. Croix.
Such estates as Petronella, Fareham, Munster, Spring Bay, Longford, Castle Nugent, Lowrys Hill, and Hartman were part of a special resource study and environmental assessment by the National Park System.
The summary of the document, some 120 pages long, describes in detail the historic Castle Nugent working farm: “In 2006 Congress directed the Secretary of the Interior to undertake a study of Castle Nugent Farms on the island of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. The Castle Nugent Farms Study Act (Public law 109-317, October 11, 2006) directs the Secretary to study the suitability and feasibility of designating Castle Nugent Farms as a unit of the National Park System and for other purposed,” noted the report.
I am talking about the Gasperi family’s contribution to the people of the Virgin Islands. On the south shore of Castle Nugent Farms property, there is a bank-barrier reef system stretching for miles. For donkey years, the Gasperi family and other family members allowed access to fishermen and for camping, hiking, and other recreational activities for the public to use the shoreline. It is a beautiful shoreline where in some areas you can walk out to the ocean almost a quarter mile and fish at waist high. The Howard M. Wall Boy Scout Camp and the shooting range east of Milord Point and west of the Great Pond Bay were once owned by Caroline Gasperi’s parents and are now used by the public.
The family once operated a dairy farm that was part of Island Dairy enterprise. In 1972, it was not thanks to politicians, but to livestock farmers — including the Gasperi family — that our local university became a Land Grant Institution. In 2006, the Gasperi family signed an agreement with UVI that allowed the university to have ownership of the Senepol cattle, one of the top-bred Crucian animals in the world, to continue the scientific research to maintain it genetic traits.
Before I finished my graduate studies at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, Caroline Gasperi wrote me a letter: “Dear Mr. Davis, I can’t thank you enough for your kind letter of 8/30/89. I am still living in a house after the death of my best friend, husband, and lover. It is very hard and letters like yours are so welcome. Mario was quite a wonderful man and he really loved this island and its people and total faith in the breed of cattle we have worked so hard to introduce to the rest of the world. It is very hard to continue the work we started without him, but I am trying. How long I can continue depends completely on the island and how much they care that an operation like ours can stay in business. Right now, it does not look too promising,” she said.
“It is so hard to do the job as it is right now but with the large development that will now be surrounding the area, it might prove impossible. I grew up here too and I love it but I am not sure I will be able to continue. The ranching business in the best of times, is not very lucrative and it is doubly hard now. Thank you again for the wonderful letter and the best to you in your study. I hope someday to get to know you. There is going to be a large sale of Senepol cattle, shortly, in Houston, Texas. If it goes well, as it should, it will prove our faith in the Senepol was well founded,” Gasperi wrote.
— Olasee Davis is a bush professor who lectures and 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.