July 14, 2004 – Passions occasionally ran high on Wednesday as Art Frederick, superintendent of the V.I. National Park and Coral Reef National Monument, asked nearly three dozen people gathered at the John's Folly Learning Institute on St. John's East End what direction they would like the park and monument to take over the next 15 to 20 years.
Park officials are in the beginning phase of developing long-term general management plans for the park and monument. Officials held similar public meetings Monday on St. Thomas and Tuesday in Cruz Bay to hear from residents. (See "V.I. National Park to Get a New Management Plan".)
At Wednesday's meeting, several people expressed oft-repeated gripes about the national park.
Alvis Christian asked that, as part of the management plan, the park open what was once a driveable road along St. John's south shore. It is now mainly a trail, although a section from Salt Pond to Lameshur is an actual road.
Christian pointed out that the fast-developing Coral Bay area has only one way in and out — Centerline Road. "What is going to happen if you can't use Centerline Road?" he asked.
He also urged that the National Park Service promote local residents into management positions at the V.I. park, including that of superintendent.
Donna Roberts, who heads VITRAN operations on St. John, said that its buses would run a route on the North Shore Road if the park, which maintains the roads, got rid of the dangerous curves. The curves are so sharp and steep that often in wet weather only cars with four-wheel drive can navigate them.
The bus route would not take business away from taxi drivers, Roberts said, but, rather, would serve people who won't take a taxi. "We're not here to take jobs away from anyone," she said.
Robin Gallup, a Maho Bay charter boat operator, asked that charter boat fees for operating in park property be lowered to match those of taxis. She said she pays $300 a year but uses park waters only about twice a month. Independent taxi drivers pay $75 a year to conduct tours on park property. Taxi drivers who are members of a taxi association are covered under the association's $250 annual fee.
Several residents also asked that the park improve parking. There are not enough parking places to meet demand at most North Shore beaches, they said, and it's so tight at Maho Bay that drivers often park almost on the beach. Other attendees said more parking space is needed at the Cruz Bay Visitor Center.
The park's existing management plan was last updated in 1983. Since then, Frederick said, park officials' hands have been tied because things they wanted to do are not permitted under the plan. There is no management plan for the Coral Reef National Monument, which was established less than four years ago.
The public has until Aug. 16 to comment on the plans to be developed. Frederick said there will be another opportunity for people to comment after the drafts are written. He said he expects the plans to be finalized by the summer of 2006.
A couple of people charged that park officials would not take their comments to heart in developing the management plans.
Pam Gaffin said she has made "umpteen" suggestions for 16 years, and the park hasn't acted on any of them. She said she has tried to open a hiking guide business utilizing park property but has had no luck. "I don't think this meeting will have any impact," she said.
In his closing remarks, Frederick asked those present to trust that park officials will consider their input. "Everything will be transparent. There are no tricks being done here, " he said as Gaffin and a few others laughed.
To offer comments in this first phase of development of the management plans, write to Art Frederick, Superintendent, V.I. National Park and Coral Reef National Monument, 1300 Cruz Bay Creek, St. John VI 00830. Or call 776-6201.
For more information, visit the V.I. National Park's General Management Plans Web site.
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