July 28, 2004 With broad smiles on their faces, the nearly two-dozen Friends of the V.I. National Park eco-campers greeted Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse as they made an appearance at the V.I. Environmental Resource Station on Wednesday.
The event wrapped up the fourth three-day, two-night camp sponsored by the Friends this summer. More than 100 children from the territory and the mainland attended the four camps.
"We want to educate the island's youth about our fragile ecosystem and to promote future stewardship for our environment," Friends program director Emily Burton said as she explained why the Friends holds the camps.
The camps were sponsored by Disney Cruise Lines, the Prosser/ICC Foundation and Texaco Caribbean. In past years, the last batch of campers went aboard a Disney cruise ship tied up in St. Thomas, but Clean Islands International director Randy Brown said that heightened security concerns put the kibosh to that trip. Instead, Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse made their first ever visit and arrived on a boat sponsored by Madison Associates, St. Thomas.
Clean Islands manages VIERS for the University of the Virgin Islands. VIERS sits within the island's national park.
Jay Shannon, a Disney community relations manager, said Disney sponsors the eco-camps because they help both children and the environment.
He said that this year, Disney donated $14,400 from its Wildlife Conservation Fund to the Friends to help with their environmental efforts.
The hikes, the beach and other environmental endeavors were mentioned when the campers were asked what they liked about their experience.
St. John resident Kaya Charles, 12, said she enjoyed hiking to nearby Yawzi Point and learning about the mangroves.
Several listed other aspects of camping among their highlights.
"I like roasting marshmallows," said Robert Richardson Jr., 12, of St. Thomas.
Richardson's remarks echoed those of numerous other campers.
He also liked the ghost stories told around the campfire at night.
Carolyn Chabuz, 12, of St. John, also put the roasted marshmallows on her list, but added she enjoyed watching deer wander through the camp.
Pace Knowles-Donnelly, 7, of St. John couldn't quite put her finger on it, but said she liked camping in the cabins because it wasn't quite like home.
"It's not the same," she said.
However, Sarah Wheeler, 9, of St. Thomas was firm on the reasons why she enjoyed her stay. "I like making friends best," she said.
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