April 5, 2002 – The relationship between the V.I. National Park and St. John is on the upswing, St. John Administrator Julien Harley said following Thursday's dedication of the park's new Visitor Center.
"Years ago it was good, then there was a hiatus, but the dialogue is beginning to open again," Harley said. He said that conversation between park officials and local residents is the key to improving the relationship.
In his remarks at the dedication ceremony, Harley noted that at many such events in the past, the audience was mostly white. At this event, he said, he saw a lot of black residents, an indication that park activities are attracting a broader spectrum of the St. John community than it once did.
Harley later observed that the park now employs many black people, a fact which he hoped would encourage even more to apply for jobs. "I hope they step up to the plate," he said.
He also said that if St. John did not have the national park, areas such as the North Shore would have been developed.
Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd used his time at the microphone to press park officials and the Friends of the V.I. National Park group to resolve long-standing park-related community issues. One step, he said, should be the opening of a road through the island's south shore.
"The Friends raised money, but we want them to be friends of the homies, too," Liburd said to nearly a hundred people gathered under a white tent on the Visitor Center grounds for the celebration. The senator, who as a young man worked for the park collecting garbage, asked for a round of applause for the good things the park has brought to St. John.
Jerry Belson, National Park Service Southeast Region director, said solutions to some of the park/community problems are in the works, but declined to give any details.
The dedication ceremony brought out several retired park rangers, including Milton Samuel, 73, who spent 30 years as an enforcement officer. "I wouldn't have missed it," he said as attendees queued up along the park center bulkhead for a late lunch.
Frances Peltier, who was superintendent of the park during the early stages of the controversy surrounding construction of the new center, also was on hand. National Park Servce officials originally planned a larger structure to replace the hurricane-damaged building that formerly stood on the site of the new center. However, a group of residents forced the officials to scale down the plans, in part because they would have cut into the space of a children's playground located adjacent to the center.
Peltier said the turmoil was worth going through in order to have the new center. The current superintendent, John King, said that although the Visitor Center has been open for nearly two years, he waited to hold the dedication until all the exhibits were in place.
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