President Clinton is asking Congress to approve funding of $1.5 million under his Lands Legacy initiative to be used by the Virgin Islands National Park as seed money toward the purchase of Estate Maho, a privately held 375-acre tract of land within its boundaries that runs from Centerline Road to the Maho Bay beach, effectively dividing the park in half.
The Maho Bay tract is among 18 natural and historic sites proposed for protection by President Clinton Tuesday with funding from an allocation of $652 million that the administration secured for its Lands Legacy initiative as part of the recent Fiscal Year 2000 budget negotiations with Congress. The total represents a 42 percent increase from last year's funding.
Judy Shafer, V.I. National Park deputy superintendent, said the tract of undivided land is held primarily by descendants of the Marsh family. The park already owns three of the 11 portions of the property because they were donated by the family members who inherited them, she said.
"There is no way" $1.5 million could buy eight-elevenths of 375 acres of land on St. John, Shafer noted. "This will be seed money. We will continue to work with the administration in Washington to see if we can get continued funding for next year. We're hoping to get another $8 million to $10 million." There have been some preliminary discussions with the heirs, she said, and "my hope is that seeing that the federal government has specifically set aside a portion of money might indicate its earnestness of desire in negotiating with the family."
The importance of the tract to the National Park Service, Shafer said, "is that it's one of the largest undeveloped tracts in the entire park, and if it's not placed in the custodianship of the park service, it could be turned into a huge resort and effectively divide the park. It would be the equivalent of someone selling Old Faithful in the middle of Yellowstone National Park."
She declined to offer a ballpark estimate of the market value of the land, saying only that it would be in "the multi-millions — you know what land prices are like on St. John."
There are several ways the Park Service could approach the purchase with the seed money, she noted. "The park might be able to buy one portion at a time. The family could get together and petition to divide the land into pieces. Another strategy is that there are parcels of land that the National Park Service owns that may not be environmentally significant that were not part of the gift from Laurence Rockefeller, and we could maybe do a land-for-land swap."
(All of the land donated by Rockefeller — the bulk of the park — has a deed reservation, she explained. Any portion that is not used for national park purposes will revert back to the Rockefeller family's Jackson Hole Foundation, which formerly held it.)
"The park service has never had the money to acquire any parcels, except for the Gibney property, which I hope we will be concluding shortly," Shafer said.
The tract has been jointly owned by the Marsh family heirs for 30 or 40 years, she said, with "the family members in disagreement on the disposition of it." She said the $1.5 million, if approved by Congress, would be placed on deposit in the NPS regional office "until we can hopefully conclude some sort of land transaction with one or more of the potential sellers."
About one-third of the national Lands Legacy funds announced by President Clinton on Tuesday are earmarked to support efforts by states and communities to protect farms, forests, urban parks and other local green spaces. Much of the rest is committed to federal acquisition of specified lands. The President announced Tuesday that he has submitted the proposals to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.
The proposals also include funding for Colorado's Gunnison Basin and Silver Mountain, Florida's Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia's Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, Hawaii's Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, Idaho's Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Minnesota's Chippewa National Forest and Superior National Forest, North Carolina's Lake Logan, Tennessee's Gulf Tract and Stones River National Battlefield, Utah's Bonneville Shoreline Trail and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Virginia's Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefield Memorial National Military Park, Washington's Mountains to Sound Greenway, Wyoming's Royal Teton Ranch, and the multi- state ecosystem of the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River, flowing through North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
The President said he is studying recommendations from Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to create a Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument in northwestern Arizona, a California Coastal National Monument, and an Agua Fria National Monument in central Arizona, and to expand the Pinnacles National Monument near San Jose, Calif.


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