Jan. 12, 2002 – The Virgin Islands National Park is part of St. John's "economic vitality," National Park Service Director Fran Mainella said at the Friends of the Park annual meeting on Sunday at T'ree Lizards Restaurant at Cinnamon Bay Campground.
Park Superintendent John King said later that while no figures exist on the park's contribution to the island's economy, it amounts to "tens of millions of dollars." He said that when the park begins developing its new General Management Plan, the first since 1983, a "money generation model" will be a part of it.
In his annual State of the Park address to 200 Friends members and guests, King said the General Management Plan will chart the park's course for the next 20 years. He said a series of public meetings will be held on the plan before the park finalizes it.
He cited the implementation of the park's Commercial Services Plan as a highlight of the past year and said that more than 90 businesses now hold concessions to operate within the park.
In her remarks, Mainella alluded to the difficulty the park had in getting taxi drivers to accept the new requirement that they obtain annual permits in order to take passengers on tours through the park.
"I know we've had challenges," she said, adding that partnerships with groups such as the taxi drivers are important to the success of the park.
King also said that development of a business plan, currently in its second phase, shows that the park needs an additional 32 people on its staff and $2.6 million more in its budget. The park currently has an annual budget of $4.8 million and gets about a million visitors a year.
In addition to federal funding, the park depends on partnerships with businesses, organizations and volunteers. King said the park's most successful partnership is with the Friends group.
"The goal is to double the size of the park staff through partnerships," King said.
Mainella in her keynote address also stressed the importance of partnerships, particularly in light of federal budget tightening. "They're really critical for us to move forward," she said.
Friends groups across the nation now have a stronger voice in the National Park Service because of a new emphasis placed on such partnerships, she said.
Mainella also said that the V.I. National Park, one of 387 federal parks, monuments and the like across the nation, is important for its natural and cultural resources. "The eco-system is an important one," she said.
Joe Kesslen, Friends president, said the not-for-profit organization's membership topped 3,000 last year. In his summation of Friends activities during 2002, he said that the group expended $300,000 to fund various park-related programs and projects. These included sending 100 children to V.I. Environmental Resource Station eco-camps, producing an educational DVD, funding research on the impact of African dust on coral reefs, funding the annual Folklife Festival on St. John, and starting to refurbish the Creque Marine Railway on Hassel Island, which is a part of the park although it lies in the St. Thomas harbor. (See "Friends of Park taking on Hassel Island cleanup".)
To meet its funding goals for 2003, Kessler said, the Friends must raise $700,000.
Edward "Harmon" Killebrew, who has rounded up youth groups to clear bush and make repairs at the marine railway on Hassel Island, was named the Friends of the Park volunteer of the year.
Velma Pullen was named the V.I. National Park volunteer of the year for her 20 years as a volunteer and her work in the park library.
Kent and Paula Savel received honorable mention from the Friends for setting up a docent program at Annaberg Plantation.
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