April 8, 2006 – Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean C. Plaskett sought to ease confusion among residents who traditionally camp at the Salt River Columbus Landing Site during Easter, announcing Saturday that only those campers on government property will have to adhere to newly instituted rules and regulations.
Plaskett had distributed those rules at a March 25 meeting in which residents were told that this would be the last year that overnight camping would be allowed at the site, which has been designated as a National Historic Landmark (See "Overnight Easter Camping at Salt River Allowed for Last Time").
One of the rules distributed at the March meeting cautioned that fights, altercations or loud, boisterous or drunken activities "after dark" will be dealt with by DPNR Law Enforcement Officers to the fullest extent of the law. On Saturday, however, the words "after dark" were deleted, which means that at no time should residents engage in the activities listed above.
The revised rules also contained added stipulations that read:
No cutting of brush or other vegetation, especially mangroves, or any of the trees on the beach.
Dogs and horses are prohibited.
"Those with dogs and horses will be asked to leave," Plaskett said Saturday.
The initial rules had specified no driving of any motorized vehicles would be allowed on the earthen fort, an area east of the beach, but Plaskett said Saturday that residents who need to traverse the area in order to get to campsites there will be allowed. However, dirt bikes, bicycles and other recreational vehicles are still prohibited and those caught using them will be fined.
Plaskett, who took residents to the verandah of the Columbus Landing Site Visitor Center, in order that they could see the area designated as government property, clarified that it is a five-acre plot on the easternmost end of the beach. Most residents have camped west of the area and Plaskett said Saturday that DPNR could not enforce those rules on nongovernment property.
Even so, Plaskett said, many of those residents in the private area camp on the beach itself and that raises the issue of the Open Shoreline Act.
"It's a vaguely written statute and whether or not I can establish rules is open for debate," he said, adding that as commissioner of DPNR he is bound to protect the environment and will do so whenever necessary.
Residents planning on camping on government property at Salt River were required to complete a brief form Saturday to be granted a permit. As each person turned in the form, he was given a number that was recorded. Campers are to present that number when they arrive to camp and are required to have identification available for DPNR inspectors at all times.
Plaskett said that as originally discussed, four port-o-potties will be installed on Monday along with a garbage bin that will be serviced during the period of April 10 to 24.
Saturday's meeting was the second called in a matter of weeks by Plaskett and members of the Salt River Columbus Landing Task Force to talk with residents who were initially disgruntled that they would be unable to continue a long-held tradition on St. Croix.
At Saturday's meeting, residents asked questions and demonstrated willingness to adhere to the rules — a far cry from the meeting held March 25 when they expressed their frustration with the rules in loud outbursts.
None of the other camping sites, such as Cramer Park, were threatened with an overnight camping ban.
Archaeologist David Brewer explained to some 50 people in attendance at the meeting that the area is being protected because evidence found at the Salt River Columbus Landing Site shows that it had been used for burials and pottery artifacts were also discovered as evidence that prehistoric residents settled there years ago.
"It's not because Columbus landed here. It's because of the prehistoric people who lived here for many years," he said.
Brewer said that the pottery artifacts discovered were likely used during feasts by those long ago settlers.
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