Nov. 16, 2003 A bicycle path that would initially run some 16 miles along St. Croix's south shore came a step closer to reality this week.
Charles Flink, president of Greenways Incorporated, a bikeways design and planning firm based in Durham, N.C., spent four days on the island meeting with government officials, private landowners and dozens of supporters of the project.
"I am convinced a bike trail would be a huge asset to the people of the island," Flink said. "It will be a wonderful boost for up-market tourism and provide safe and exciting recreation for locals."
Flink's visit was made possible by a grant from the Hovensa oil refinery, where the proposed route would begin. The Buccaneer Hotel provided all accommodations.
He was hosted by St. Croix architect and builder Robert White, who is a board member of the Landmarks Society operators of the Whim and Lawaetz museums in Frederiksted and a longtime community activist.
"Chuck was deeply impressed by the great variety of cultural and historical places on the island," White said. "We gave him the full tour, and he is really eager to get going on the project."
Ultimately, White said, the pathway would go around and through the entire island, providing bicyclists, roller-bladers, pedestrians and other non-vehicular traffic access to dozens of attractions from Point Udall in the east to Frederiksted in the west. It would connect sites like the Bethlehem Sugar Factory, St. George Village Botanical Garden, Whim Plantation, the rain forest, the north shore, Salt River and other points of interest.
"Phase one," White said, "will connect the refinery area on Canegarden Bay with Point Udall, running along Southside Road to Great Pond and on along South Shore Road all the way to the easternmost point in the United States."
Flink said a spur of the path would run from the south shore to Gallows Bay via the now-unpaved Spring Gut Road, and later make its way through Christiansted, out to North Shore Road and on to the west.
Financing for the first phase, which would cost between $2 and $3 million, would be chiefly provided by federal funds and foundation grants along with with a percentage of local matching funds, Flink said. Maintenance in perpetuity would probably be best accomplished with an endowment.
Much of the route of phase one, White said, will run alongside the existing federal highway through many miles of pastureland. "But in some spots we will be able to go right along the water, or at least provide easy access to the shoreline via fishermen's trails and other routes." He said he hopes the path will be able to cross Great Pond in Estate Hartmanns along the isthmus that separates the sea from the salty estuary. "It would be supported with environmentally friendly wood pilings driven into the pond bottom," White said. "It would be an incredibly spectacular stretch of the pathway."
Flink said the next step will be a detailed "feasibility study," that would sketch out the route and confront the land-use and property-rights problems that could arise. The study will be financed by private subscriptions, which are currently being sought. The study would cost no more than $15,000, Flink said.
Flink, who has worked on projects in 31 states and several countries, said if the cooperation of the agencies and private interests involved is there, the path could be opened within a year.
"I have been in few places as breathtaking in beauty and as ideal for this kind of project as St. Croix," he said.
For more information on Greenways' work, he said, people can view the company's Web site: www.greenways.com Those interested in helping with the effort or seeking more details can phone 778-0615.
White said the bike path would provide "the perfect branding of St. Croix that many experts including Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards have called for." He said it would also spawn several small businesses to support the greenway, like bike-rental shops and food stalls.
"The path would put the island on the world map as a great ecotourism and cultural-tourism destination," he said. "But most of all, it will give our own folks a wonderful means to exercise, picnic and enjoy their island as never before."
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