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U.N. DESIGNATES 2002 YEAR OF ECOTOURISM

Jan. 1, 2002 – While every recent year has carried a United Nations designation, 2002 has particular significance for the Virgin Islands. It is the International Year of Ecotourism.
Although many travelers don't think of St. Thomas, St. John or St. Croix as ecotourism destinations in the way they do, say, the Amazon or the Galapagos Islands, there are eco-attractions on all three islands.
St. John set the pace back in 1956, when the V.I. National Park and Caneel Bay Resort opened. Bay Camps owner Stanley Selengut recalled recently that Laurence Rockefeller, who donated much of the land that makes up the park to the federal government, saw that visitors wanted a place to stay that was close to nature. With simply furnished rooms open to the breezes and the sound of the waves, Caneel Bay Resort, then called Caneel Bay Plantation, filled the bill. Although Caneel now has air-conditioning, it maintains its low-key, yet upscale, atmosphere.
While Caneel cultivated its reputation as a luxury resort with matching prices, Selengut opened St. John up to less well-heeled ecotourists with the start-up 25 years ago of Maho Bay Camps. "I stumbled on it by accident," he said of the development. He originally planned to build a lodge for himself and his friends, but when Robert Stanton, then V.I. National Park superintendent, told him that cutting roads would damage the environment, he decided instead to erect "eco-tents" located adjacent to elevated walkways.
Selengut proceeded to incorporate solar power, recycling and other environmentally friendly concepts at Maho Bay and at his subsequent developments – Harmony Resort adjacent to Maho Bay, and Concordia Studios and Eco-tents near Salt Pond. While Maho Bay and the other Selengut properties are the best-known ecotourism enterprises in the Virgin Islands, others are quietly getting on the bandwagon.
Guided birding, hiking and kayaking tours are all offered on St. John, utilizing the park grounds and/or waters around the island. But St. Thomas, too, has an environmentally oriented attraction: V.I. Ecotours takes kayakers through the Lagoon and will soon begin conducting hiking tours on Nature Conservancy land behind Magens Bay, owner Fran Newbold said. Newbold said that Ecotours is partnering with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, which she said had a "big ecotourism bent this year."
The St. Croix Environmental Association takes the lead in ecotourism outreach on the territory's largest island. The not-for-profit organization runs hiking tours to Salt River National Park and Ecological Preserve, the historic ruins at Estate Mount Washington, and Mount Victory, located in the island's rain forest. "It's part of our mission statement to promote awareness," SEA's director, Bill Turner, said.
Also on St. Croix, a few companies run kayak tours at Salt River and other locations. "You now have a much more adventurous and active traveler," Nancy Feingood, Caribbean Adventure Tours co-owner, said. She thinks visitors make a conscious decision to tread lightly on the environment when they book a kayak tour.
Turner thinks that ecotourism is in its infancy, particularly in locations such as the Virgin Islands. "When people think of the Caribbean, they think of massive high-rise hotels and casinos," he said, suggesting that the Tourism Department make more effort to promote the territory's ecotourism aspects.
However, Newbold warned that companies must limit the number of people they take per tour, or the eco-experience is ruined. "We maxed out in our third year," she said of her company, which began offering tours in 1996. The company takes no more than 30 people at a time kayaking.
Some developers shun low-density, eco-friendly development as a matter of economics, Selengut said. When an owner has a piece of beachfront land, he pointed out, a high-rise hotel makes more money than low-rise buildings scattered about the property. However, he also sees a growing interest in ecotourism as the hospitality industry extends its tentacles into previously untouched areas. He considers it important that such areas be developed in an environmentally friendly way.
"Tourists can create a constant form of income," Selengut said, noting that other kinds of development such as mining and logging soon exhaust their environment. A founding member in 1990 of the Vermont-based Ecotourism Society and a current member of the National Park Service Advisory Board, he hopes that the International Year of Ecotourism will focus attention on tourism concerns in developing places.
In observance of the International Year of Ecotourism, a series of regional meetings will be held in Belize, India, Peru, Thailand, Kenya and Sweden. In addition, a World Ecotourism Summit will be held in Quebec City, Canada, May 19-22. For more information, visit the International Year of Ecotourism web site.

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Jan. 1, 2002 - While every recent year has carried a United Nations designation, 2002 has particular significance for the Virgin Islands. It is the International Year of Ecotourism.
Although many travelers don't think of St. Thomas, St. John or St. Croix as ecotourism destinations in the way they do, say, the Amazon or the Galapagos Islands, there are eco-attractions on all three islands.
St. John set the pace back in 1956, when the V.I. National Park and Caneel Bay Resort opened. Bay Camps owner Stanley Selengut recalled recently that Laurence Rockefeller, who donated much of the land that makes up the park to the federal government, saw that visitors wanted a place to stay that was close to nature. With simply furnished rooms open to the breezes and the sound of the waves, Caneel Bay Resort, then called Caneel Bay Plantation, filled the bill. Although Caneel now has air-conditioning, it maintains its low-key, yet upscale, atmosphere.
While Caneel cultivated its reputation as a luxury resort with matching prices, Selengut opened St. John up to less well-heeled ecotourists with the start-up 25 years ago of Maho Bay Camps. "I stumbled on it by accident," he said of the development. He originally planned to build a lodge for himself and his friends, but when Robert Stanton, then V.I. National Park superintendent, told him that cutting roads would damage the environment, he decided instead to erect "eco-tents" located adjacent to elevated walkways.
Selengut proceeded to incorporate solar power, recycling and other environmentally friendly concepts at Maho Bay and at his subsequent developments – Harmony Resort adjacent to Maho Bay, and Concordia Studios and Eco-tents near Salt Pond. While Maho Bay and the other Selengut properties are the best-known ecotourism enterprises in the Virgin Islands, others are quietly getting on the bandwagon.
Guided birding, hiking and kayaking tours are all offered on St. John, utilizing the park grounds and/or waters around the island. But St. Thomas, too, has an environmentally oriented attraction: V.I. Ecotours takes kayakers through the Lagoon and will soon begin conducting hiking tours on Nature Conservancy land behind Magens Bay, owner Fran Newbold said. Newbold said that Ecotours is partnering with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, which she said had a "big ecotourism bent this year."
The St. Croix Environmental Association takes the lead in ecotourism outreach on the territory's largest island. The not-for-profit organization runs hiking tours to Salt River National Park and Ecological Preserve, the historic ruins at Estate Mount Washington, and Mount Victory, located in the island's rain forest. "It's part of our mission statement to promote awareness," SEA's director, Bill Turner, said.
Also on St. Croix, a few companies run kayak tours at Salt River and other locations. "You now have a much more adventurous and active traveler," Nancy Feingood, Caribbean Adventure Tours co-owner, said. She thinks visitors make a conscious decision to tread lightly on the environment when they book a kayak tour.
Turner thinks that ecotourism is in its infancy, particularly in locations such as the Virgin Islands. "When people think of the Caribbean, they think of massive high-rise hotels and casinos," he said, suggesting that the Tourism Department make more effort to promote the territory's ecotourism aspects.
However, Newbold warned that companies must limit the number of people they take per tour, or the eco-experience is ruined. "We maxed out in our third year," she said of her company, which began offering tours in 1996. The company takes no more than 30 people at a time kayaking.
Some developers shun low-density, eco-friendly development as a matter of economics, Selengut said. When an owner has a piece of beachfront land, he pointed out, a high-rise hotel makes more money than low-rise buildings scattered about the property. However, he also sees a growing interest in ecotourism as the hospitality industry extends its tentacles into previously untouched areas. He considers it important that such areas be developed in an environmentally friendly way.
"Tourists can create a constant form of income," Selengut said, noting that other kinds of development such as mining and logging soon exhaust their environment. A founding member in 1990 of the Vermont-based Ecotourism Society and a current member of the National Park Service Advisory Board, he hopes that the International Year of Ecotourism will focus attention on tourism concerns in developing places.
In observance of the International Year of Ecotourism, a series of regional meetings will be held in Belize, India, Peru, Thailand, Kenya and Sweden. In addition, a World Ecotourism Summit will be held in Quebec City, Canada, May 19-22. For more information, visit the International Year of Ecotourism web site.