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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, May 21, 2024


The next superintendent of the V.I. National Park on St. John said he wants the park to become more inclusive of the island's people and their lives. "I think one of my challenges is to prepare Virgin Islanders to take a more active role in management at all levels" within the park, he said.
One barrier faced by locals seeking advancement within the park service is geographic, Wendell Simpson said in a telephone interview Wednesday. In the continental United States, the training needed for advancement is more easily accessible. NPS workers can move from state to state within a region and still be in proximity to their hometowns. "In the Virgin Islands, people tend to want to stay in the islands, which is home," he noted.
The options to provide opportunities for advancement for locals here are to bring trainers in or to send workers away for training, he said, and both are expensive propositions.
Simpson also said he's interested in revitalizing park-sponsored educational programs that introduce natural history and conservation into the territory's school systems.
The newly appointed V.I. park superintendent, chosen from among about 45 applicants for the job, is a 22-year NPS veteran who has moved up the ranks by moving around the country. He has served as superintendent at two sites – first the Canaveral National Seashore in Florida and currently the Natchez Trace Parkway, a historic trail traversing three Southern states.
Geographically, his new assignment "is a much smaller park than where I am now," he noted.
In charge of a historic trade route for Tennessee boatmen taking their goods to New Orleans, Simpson said, he has been overseeing an annual budget of $9 million, maintaining 438 cultural sites visited by 7 million people a year.
Simpson's appointment to replace V.I. National Park Supt. Russell Berry Jr., who retired from the position in July, was announced last week by National Park Service regional director Jerry Belson. After more than two decades of working for the park service, Simpson said, he still considers it "one of the most rewarding agencies in the federal government." NPS personnel "largely treat each other as family and greet visitors who are there to enjoy themselves," he said.
In the course of his first two superintendencies, Simpson distinguished himself in different ways. One he doesn't like to talk about; the other he speaks of proudly.
This spring he was honored by the Department of Interior, under which the NPS falls, for increasing on-the-job safety through an employee incentive program. "Safety is a behavior thing," he said. "It's how you think and what you do. We set up a program where we were talking about safety at every meeting." The upshot, he said, was that "we had some favorable results."
Within 18 months, the employee safety program at the Natchez Trace Parkway "made a drastic difference" in the number of Workers' Compensation claims and accidents resulting in time lost in the workplace.
The matter Simpson would rather not discuss is his enforcement of regulations against nude sunbathing at the Canaveral National Seashore. In the official announcement from NPS regional headquarters in Atlanta last week, Simpson was cited for his skill at dealing with controversial issues. There are numerous website references on the Internet to his opposition to advocates of going bare at certain beaches in the Canaveral area.
In the telephone interview, all he would say about nudity at beaches that lie within national parks was, "It's illegal. I have no further comment."
While there are at least two St. John beaches off the beaten path where it is commonly known that nudity is the norm, there are other challenges on Simpson's mind as he prepares to wrap up his duties from the parkway headquarters in Tupelo, Miss. He will be trading hundreds of miles of highway and 438 cultural sites for a park on and around a small island, with numerous beaches, hills, bays, birds, beasts and marine life in his domain. He will also inherited a growing park budget which has been approved to add $1 million to its spending plan for Fiscal Year 2001.
Although national parks across the country are receiving slight boosts in their budgets, Simpson called the increment for St. John's significant. "One million dollars, that's a great boost. That's a third of their budget," he said. "I think there will be some positions filled. I think there will be a backlog of maintenance projects filled."
Beyond that, he said, he will confer with St. John park staff personnel about where they think the spending priorities lie for what he termed "flexible dollars."
His first priority once he relocates to St. John in late September, he said, will be assembling his management team. Together, he said, the team members will tackle the park service mandate for natural resource preservation.
"I'm excited about it," he said. "I look forward to the opportunity. I believe I can bring something to the table to benefit the park."

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