Organizers of Thursday night's meeting on the National Park Service Gateway Program were hoping participants would reach a consensus on inviting park planners to Cruz Bay. But by the time the meeting was over, they had agreed only on the need to bring more people into the decision-making process.
About 20 people attended the meeting at the Legislature Building conference room to hear more about Gateway, a program designed to help small towns outside large national parks develop plans to cope with large numbers of tourists passing through.
Meeting organizer Craig Barshinger said attracting federal planners through the Gateway Program would be a "boon" for Cruz Bay because there are many people with ideas for developing the town, but few resources.
However, Jim Owens, a planning consultant working with the V.I. National Park, warned that efforts by those at the meeting were bound to fail unless they could sustain participation by an diverse and committed coalition.
"Please understand that the Park Service has as much at stake in making the town look good and work good as the people who live here," Owens said. Under the program, he explained, residents decide what improvements they want for their Gateway town, then the NPS sends planners to help the community develop strategies for putting those improvements into place.
Plans typically address ways of easing the impact of a huge volume of visitors using roads and water systems and leaving the byproducts of their consumption. Once a plan has been adopted, it is up to the citizens group to implement it.
Because Cruz Bay today is a town of diverse cultures and interests, Owens and others at the meeting said, any group pursuing a Gateway plan must accommodate a broad range of perspectives. The attendees at the meeting didn't meet that criterion, some noted, as more continentals than West Indians were present.
"We don't have a good cross section in here," St. John administrator Julien Harley said. "If we start out fooling ourselves, we end up fooling ourselves."
Harley suggested those interested in pursuing Gateway status conduct an outreach campaign through St. John churches — and also among young adults and parents with school-aged children, since the island's largest school is in Cruz Bay.
Most individuals who came to hear about the plan expressed little sentiment for or against the idea, but several said Gateway proponents should take their time in seeking to generate community interest.
Former island administrator Roy Sewer said he wants to know more about how the program works. Resident Ira January suggested the group conduct a survey to raise awareness about the planning assistance opportunity. Theodora Moorehead, whose family home is a short distance from the Cruz Bay dock, said promoting the Gateway concept should be a gradual process. "What's important to John may not be important to Mary in the West Indian culture," she said.
After the meeting, Barshinger expressed satisfaction with the dialogue. "At the beginning, I was afraid we would have negativism, and so much of the time we are spurred on by negative emotions," he said. However, he added, "this was a meeting where we had no immediate threats. There was only the possibility of a dream together."
NPS representatives brought a bound volume outlining the Gateway concept to the meeting. Mary Blazine, executive director of the St. John Community Foundation, offered to keep the document at her office and make it available to anyone wanting to review it.
The pro-Gateway people present agreed to meet monthly and to undertake an outreach campaign explaining why they feel that developmental planning would be good for the town of Cruz Bay as well as for the V.I. National Park. Their next meeting is set for Thursday, Feb. 24, at 6:30 p.m., again in the Legislature Building conference room.


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