Home News Local news Easter Camping Weekend Approaches; Last Year for Facilities at Salt River Bay

Easter Camping Weekend Approaches; Last Year for Facilities at Salt River Bay

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March 18, 2008 — Beginning next year the Department of Planning and Natural Resources will no longer provide amenities for campers in the Salt River Bay area as it has done in past years.
The department had provided garbage bins and portable toilets for use by campers following the establishment of a permitting process for use of certain areas at Salt River Bay after it was named a historical landmark, DPNR Spokesman Jamal Nielsen said Tuesday. But one of the toilets the department rented disappeared and was never recovered.
"Unfortunately one was stolen and it cost us $2,500 to replace it," Nielsen said.
The department's action, however, should not be viewed as retaliatory, Nielsen said.
"We want campers to be organized," he said. "We want them to start doing these things for themselves. We're not trying to penalize anyone — we want people to go out and enjoy this tradition, but we also want them to take pride in preserving the area they use."
The Easter holiday is traditionally a time when many island residents lock up their homes and spend the four-day weekend — government workers are off Thursday through Monday — near beaches and other campsites around the island.
It is a holiday steeped in culture, especially on St. Croix, with its large Hispanic population, Nielsen said.
"A lot of people — Hispanics, especially — tend to head out to the beaches or campsites of choice for Easter," he said. "It is a long weekend off, the beginning of Spring, and families get together to rough it. They can fish and cook and play. It's essentially a bonding process."
On Palm Sunday, five days before the traditional start of camping on Holiday Thursday, residents could be seen under tents at Dorsch Beach, playing dominoes while others cooked on grills.
As of Tuesday, Nielsen said, tents were up "on the most popular beaches," including Cramer's Park, Butler Bay and Dorsch Beach.
At Salt River Bay, however, the number of campers appears to be down. A total of eight families are camping at the site this year but Nielsen did not know whether that number could increase.
Unlike Salt River Bay, DPNR does not regulate the other beach areas, but officers will conduct "routine patrol" of all campsites, said Carlos Farchette, DPNR's director of enforcement.
A March 8 meeting to register for permits was essentially a bust, Nielsen said.
"It was poorly attended," he said. "Three people showed up."
DPNR officials then decided to go out and seek out campers and registered them on site, according to Farchette. Those who had to register were given a copy of the rules and regulations. (See "Camping Rules Expanded, Redefined at Salt River.") The names of the owners of campsites on privately owned land for camping were recorded in the event that DPNR needs to reach them, Farchette said.
He does not believe residents are abandoning Salt River because of the permitting process.
"From what I gathered many people said they did not attend the meeting, unlike last year when they thought that they were being prevented from camping," Farchette said.
Last year, officials with DPNR and the National Park Service — which has oversight responsibility over areas named historical landmarks — held a series of meetings before the start of camping to get residents to buy into the permitting process that established rules and regulations in the aftermath of an archaeological discovery at Salt River Bay, also known as Columbus Landing. Residents attending that meeting were told that Taino Indians once lived in the area and various pieces of pottery, with their distinct markings, were offered up as proof.
Until the meetings, residents had largely protested the permitting process, believing that it would eventually lead to a ban on camping at Salt River. National Park Service and local officials allayed those fears, telling residents that the permit process was largely an attempt to preserve the areas for generations to come.
Past surveillance of campsites revealed that some campers left trash behind, drove on paths where vehicles were not allowed and routinely dug fire pits for cooking. Digging of fire pits and using vehicles in some areas at Salt River has since been banned as part of the permit process.
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