This second part of the Gasperi story will tell how we got to Congress with a positive attitude and whether lawmakers will designate Castle Nugent Farms as part of the National Park System of the United States.
Caroline Gasperi’s love for St. Croix is very deep. And as a conservationist and businesswoman, she and other family members — some seven landowners within the study — proposed an area to establish a park and approached former Delegate to Congress Donna Christian-Christensen concerning the steps to take to designate private land as part of the National Park System.
For any land to become part of the National Park System of our nation, there is a process to follow. According to the Public Law 91-383 § 8 as amended by § 304 of the National Parks Omnibus Management Act (Public Law 105-391) and National Park Service policy, any potential new addition must meet the park’s high standards and requirements.
For Castle Nugent Farms to be eligible for designation as a potential area, it had to be found to be nationally significant as well as a suitable addition to the National Park System, feasible to manage, and operational within the system.
Then, there was a seven-step evaluation process to determine whether the Castle Nugent Farms area is of national significance, including the natural, cultural, historical, and terrestrial features, and the integrity of the marine environment resources. The seven steps are (1) Evaluate National Significance, Suitability, and Feasibility, (2) Initiate an Evaluation of Need for Direct National Park Service Management, (3) Assess Public Opinion and Ideas about Managing the Site, (4) Develop Management Alternative, (5) Analyze Potential Environmental Consequences Associated with each Management Alternative, (6) Publish Study Report and Distribute for Public Review and Comment, and (7) Transmit Study Report to Congress.
Believe me, it was a long process, gathering information and conducting scientific research findings as well as interviewing the public as to whether the Castle Nugent site should become a park. National Park scientists, such as historians, archeologists, biologists, etc., non-profit organizations, individuals, and the public were all involved in the process of building a case for Castle Nugent Farms to be designated as part of the National Park System.
From the report findings, the majority of the residents on St. Croix wanted to see historic Castle Nugent Farms become part of the National Park System. One thing about the residents of St. Croix, their thinking process is somewhat different from the other U.S. Virgin Islands when planning the island’s future development. I saw this again and again with the Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan town hall meetings. I gather from listening that many Crucians don’t want St. Croix to be congested like our sister island of St. Thomas where it is built out. In other words, they don’t want over-development.
When the suitability and feasibility study was completed, historic Castle Nugent Farms met the criteria to become part of the National Park System.
“The NPS has found that the site meets established criteria for inclusion in the National Park System, and that the potential inclusion of the area to the National Park System enjoys strong local support,” noted the report.
Another section of the report stated, “Public sentiment has been overwhelmingly in support of creating a national park unit at Castle Nugent Farms. As part of the study, the NPS conducted public meetings to present management alternatives. The NPS received over 300 comments in favor of establishing a national park unit and only one comment in opposition.”
In 2009, I testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources in Congress in support of the measure to establish Castle Nugent Farms as part of the National Park System. The bill passed the House Committee with a vote of 25-14. Castle Nugent Farms came one step closer to becoming officially a National Historic Site managed by the National Park Service. Nonetheless, the bill never arrived on President Barack Obama’s desk for his signature.
In those days, I used to keep in contact with John Garrison, who was then the director for the Trust for Public Land Southwest Florida and the Caribbean region, to give me updates on the status of Castle Nugent Farms. They were also part of the process lobbying Congress in favor of the plan. Nonetheless, the bill never arrived on President Barack Obama’s desk for his signature. From the time Obama became president, it was tough passing bills through Congress although bills were passed to establish National Monuments, Protected Areas, National Parks, etc.
You know what I think? I think our beloved Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett should take up the Castle Nugent Farms bill, although she was not the sponsor of the bill. In 2006, it was former Delegate Christensen that sponsored legislation that directed the National Park Service to conduct the suitability and feasibility study to designate St. Croix as a National Heritage Area. Early this year, St. Croix was designated as a National Heritage Area, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden with the effort of Delegate Plaskett who took up the bill with the support of Congress and Donna, me and others who started the groundwork many years ago.
In 2021, I wrote a letter of support to Delegate Plaskett for the process of moving St. Croix forward to be designated as a National Heritage Area. Part of the letter says, “This letter serves to express my support and commitment of the University of the Virgin Islands School of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service, to designate the island of St. Croix a National Heritage Area, which passed in the U.S. House of Representatives few months ago …” I am willing again to support the Delegate to Congress if she sees fit, which I think she should take up the Castle Nugent Farms bill in Congress.
Also, I am willing to support the Virgin Islands Territorial Park System, or other entities who are willing to see Castle Nugent Farms become a reality for the people of the Virgin Islands and our nation. However, it is up to the Gasperi family if they are willing to try again. However, Caroline Gasperi said it best when she wrote me a P.S at the end of letter over 30 years ago:
“Dear Olasee, I hope that the Senepol at least a nucleus of them will still be found on St. Croix in the future. I would like to be the one to hold a herd together but without the interest of our government, I don’t see how. Please let me know.”
I am not sure, but I believe it was 2003 or later when the Gasperi family came with the idea to see their working farm become part of the park system. Believe me, it would be a great honor to see it happen because of the late Dr. Mario Gasperi’s love for the land and people of these islands, particularly St. Croix.
Editor’s Note: Read Part 1 of this series here.
— 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.