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Officials Celebrate Golden Anniversary of Park Service Gem

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Dec. 1, 2006 — A group of students from the St. John School of the Arts singing "Happy Birthday" was just one of the activities Friday during the V.I. National Park 's 50th anniversary celebration.
It was a feel-good day for the park as federal and local officials, residents and a stray visitor or two gathered under tents erected in the ball field adjacent to the park's visitors center for the ceremony.
It was also a day for entertainment by youthful quadrille dancers, the School of the Arts students, the Love City Pan Dragons, as well as speeches by various officials.
"While places are special, I believe it is people who make a difference," National Park Service Director Mary Bomar said in her remarks to the more than 100 people gathered for the event.
Bomar, who took over as director six weeks ago, announced the Park Service's Ocean Park Stewardship Action Plan, an event planned to coincide with the park's 50th anniversary.
The plan is aimed a restoring and maintaining ocean resources in the National Park system for current and future generations.
St. John's national park is one of 74 parks (located throughout 25 states and territories) that contains coastal areas.
In introducing Delegate Donna M. Christensen, Southeast Regional Director Patricia Hooks pointed out that the delegate was a big supporter of the park service.
"But she gives us a little spanking, too, when we need one," Hooks said.
Christensen spoke about the economic benefits provided by the park, but noted that the park must ensure that local residents are included.
"And on the other side of the great economic boon is a sense of displacement," she said.
She said that 48 years ago, two years after the park opened, the late Sen. Theovald Moorehead expressed the same feeling.
Christensen said there are issues between the park and the community still to be addressed, including opening long-closed roads to provide access and obtaining land within the park to build a school.
All the speakers had good words for philanthropist Laurence S. Rockefeller, whose donation of land in 1956 provided the park's core.
"He clearly understood the preservation of green spaces," St. John Administrator Julien Harley said.
Harley stood in for the absent Gov. Charles Turnbull.
Deputy Regional Director Art Frederick, who recently served at the park's superintendent, said that some people in the U.S. Congress thought the park would fail.
"They stood on the floor and said how would people get here," he said.
He said that in 1957, the first full year the park was open, 11,000 people visited. Today, the park sees more than a million visitors a year.
"It's one of the gems in the National Park Service," he said.
Bomar, Hooks and Christensen cut the red ribbon on the park's Philanthropy Garden, located next to the visitors center and funded by the Friends of the Park.
However, Friends President Joe Kessler pointed out that although the structure was there, the garden was missing.
"Soon to come," he said.
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