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HomeNewsArchivesMAHO BAY CAMPS AT 25: TRUE TO ITS ECO-ROOTS

MAHO BAY CAMPS AT 25: TRUE TO ITS ECO-ROOTS

Dec. 17, 2001 – Twenty-five years ago — at 1 p.m. Dec. 18, 1976, to be exact — the first guest at Maho Bay Camps walked down those famous elevated boardwalks at the St. John resort to begin a week's stay in one of the 18 tents.
In preparing for the big anniversary, Maho staffers couldn't locate that first guest. But they did find a Nashville, Tenn., couple who came for the first time in 1984. Tom and Gail Miller have made five visits since first reading about Stanley Selengut's pace-setting eco-venture in a 1980 issue of Outside Magazine. "I was just captivated by the article, and we fell in love with the place," Gail Miller recalls.
Miller says she was most impressed with Maho's recycling program, an aspect of the campground that continues to grow. Helping guests understand and care for their environment has been one of Selengut's goals from the start. "One of our missions was interpretation," he said.
Indeed, Maho has often served as an example for the rest of St. John on how to deal with waste and protect the environment. Maho staff tantalize passersby with cookies baked in a demonstration solar oven at the island's Earth Day celebrations, and locals as well as visitors attend its recycling seminars.
While the Maho concept remains the same, and Miller says the place is as nice as ever, there have been changes. Selengut experimented with composting toilets, but when he found the odors wafted toward the dining room, he installed conventional flush toilets. The 114 "tent cottages" that now dot the hillsides are sturdier than the originals, and the campground has a restaurant. This year, Maho dropped its seven-night minimum stay.
And in 1993, Selengut opened Harmony, a 12-unit condominium project constructed almost entirely of recycled materials that sits just above the campground.
Selengut also operates Concordia Studios and the adjacent eco-tents at Estate Concordia. Both are environmentally-friendly resorts.
When Harmony opened, Selengut says, many guests opted for a condo unit rather than a tent. However, some said they missed the closeness to nature they experienced at Maho's tents. "That gave me the idea for the eco-tents," Selengut recalls. The eco-tents use state-of-the-art technology to conserve energy and help guests understand their impact. For example, he says, because visitors hand pump their water, they can see how much they use.
Selengut recently said that he initially planned to build a beachfront lodge at Maho Bay as a place for him and his friends to visit. However, Robert Stanton, then V.I. National Park superintendent, enlightened him about the damage cutting roads would do to the environment. Selengut knew about elevated walkways from New York's Fire Island, so he adopted that concept at Maho Bay. But he took his environmental concerns steps further by hand digging the footings.
"When we were finished, it looked like everything just grew there," Selengut said.
After The New York Times did a story about the project, interest grew. Selengut soon found himself with a need for more tent cottages. Maho continued to expand as public interest in eco-tourism developed. Along the way, Selengut picked up slews of awards for his eco-tourism efforts, starting soon after the resort opened with a federal Environmental Protection Agency award for his innovative construction techniques.
Ironically, despite its success and acclaim, Maho may go the way of the dinosaur. Selengut has 12 years to go on his 35-year campground lease from private landholders, although he owns the three acres where Harmony sits and the Concordia properties.
At the age of 72, he says, and with much of his time taken up with his seat on the National Park Service advisory board, he doesn't have the time or energy to develop his properties further. He thinks that after the Maho lease expires, the land will end up being developed for an upscale development like Peter Bay, located within park boundaries on St. John's North Shore.
Miller no doubt speaks for many regular Maho back-to-nature vacationers when she reacts to that prospect: "The saddest thing would be to see a Westin or Hyatt come in," she says.

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Dec. 17, 2001 - Twenty-five years ago -- at 1 p.m. Dec. 18, 1976, to be exact -- the first guest at Maho Bay Camps walked down those famous elevated boardwalks at the St. John resort to begin a week's stay in one of the 18 tents.
In preparing for the big anniversary, Maho staffers couldn't locate that first guest. But they did find a Nashville, Tenn., couple who came for the first time in 1984. Tom and Gail Miller have made five visits since first reading about Stanley Selengut's pace-setting eco-venture in a 1980 issue of Outside Magazine. "I was just captivated by the article, and we fell in love with the place," Gail Miller recalls.
Miller says she was most impressed with Maho's recycling program, an aspect of the campground that continues to grow. Helping guests understand and care for their environment has been one of Selengut's goals from the start. "One of our missions was interpretation," he said.
Indeed, Maho has often served as an example for the rest of St. John on how to deal with waste and protect the environment. Maho staff tantalize passersby with cookies baked in a demonstration solar oven at the island's Earth Day celebrations, and locals as well as visitors attend its recycling seminars.
While the Maho concept remains the same, and Miller says the place is as nice as ever, there have been changes. Selengut experimented with composting toilets, but when he found the odors wafted toward the dining room, he installed conventional flush toilets. The 114 "tent cottages" that now dot the hillsides are sturdier than the originals, and the campground has a restaurant. This year, Maho dropped its seven-night minimum stay.
And in 1993, Selengut opened Harmony, a 12-unit condominium project constructed almost entirely of recycled materials that sits just above the campground.
Selengut also operates Concordia Studios and the adjacent eco-tents at Estate Concordia. Both are environmentally-friendly resorts.
When Harmony opened, Selengut says, many guests opted for a condo unit rather than a tent. However, some said they missed the closeness to nature they experienced at Maho's tents. "That gave me the idea for the eco-tents," Selengut recalls. The eco-tents use state-of-the-art technology to conserve energy and help guests understand their impact. For example, he says, because visitors hand pump their water, they can see how much they use.
Selengut recently said that he initially planned to build a beachfront lodge at Maho Bay as a place for him and his friends to visit. However, Robert Stanton, then V.I. National Park superintendent, enlightened him about the damage cutting roads would do to the environment. Selengut knew about elevated walkways from New York's Fire Island, so he adopted that concept at Maho Bay. But he took his environmental concerns steps further by hand digging the footings.
"When we were finished, it looked like everything just grew there," Selengut said.
After The New York Times did a story about the project, interest grew. Selengut soon found himself with a need for more tent cottages. Maho continued to expand as public interest in eco-tourism developed. Along the way, Selengut picked up slews of awards for his eco-tourism efforts, starting soon after the resort opened with a federal Environmental Protection Agency award for his innovative construction techniques.
Ironically, despite its success and acclaim, Maho may go the way of the dinosaur. Selengut has 12 years to go on his 35-year campground lease from private landholders, although he owns the three acres where Harmony sits and the Concordia properties.
At the age of 72, he says, and with much of his time taken up with his seat on the National Park Service advisory board, he doesn't have the time or energy to develop his properties further. He thinks that after the Maho lease expires, the land will end up being developed for an upscale development like Peter Bay, located within park boundaries on St. John's North Shore.
Miller no doubt speaks for many regular Maho back-to-nature vacationers when she reacts to that prospect: "The saddest thing would be to see a Westin or Hyatt come in," she says.