May 3, 2006 – Backcountry camping was a hot topic Wednesday as V.I. National Park staff and consultants held the second of three public meetings on developing a general management plan for the park and Coral Reef National Monument.
"You're not going to have much of a backcountry experience looking at big castles," Edmund Roberts said, referring to the large homes going up on St. John's hillsides.
He said the park was too small and the terrain too steep to support backcountry camping.
Roberts, a retired park ranger whose last assignment was at the 13.2-million acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska, said that with people "stomping" around, visitors wouldn't have much of a backcountry experience.
"And comfort stations in the backcountry? Backcountry is the bushes," he said.
The proposed management plan divides St. John into five management zones: backcountry, visitor contact and operations, recreation, nature and heritage discovery, and resource protection.
The park is proposing alternatives that include the status quo, increased use and decreased use.
In 2004 the park began soliciting input for updating its management plan, the first time it's done so since 1983. Superintendent Art Frederick said that the park received about 850 comments from both residents and nonresidents during that first phase, which helped the park develop the zoning and alternatives.
He said the park will develop the specifics using information gained from the current round of hearings.
"It's very important that we get information from you because you're going to have to live with this for the next 15 to 20 years," Frederick said.
After Pam Gaffin complained that she wanted firmer answers as to what would be allowed and where, Alyse Getty of Parsons, the park's consultant, said that at this stage the process was still too broad to focus on specifics.
"I'm really disappointed. Two years ago, we went through all these issues. I don't believe blobs on a map took two years to do," Gaffin said.
Sharon Coldren said the zone maps didn't take into account the extensive amount of privately-owned land in the Coral Bay area that falls within authorized park boundaries. Those areas are included in what the planners have termed resource protection areas.
However, Getty said that those areas are included in the planning process because some day the park could own them.
After the chronic parking shortage at the park's North Shore beaches came up, Dave Conro suggested that the park alleviate the problem by implementing a tram system similar to ones used in other national parks.
The park will hold its third meeting Thursday from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Julius E. Sprauve School in Cruz Bay.
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