May 26, 2005 – Joel Tutein, superintendent of the National Park Service, Senate President Lorraine Berry, Myron Jackson, director of the State Historic Preservation office, Dean Plaskett, commissioner Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and other organizers of the Media Day at Salt River Thursday planned to have a positive event where media members were supplied with information on what the Working Task Force was doing at the site. The event did not work out that way.
After a presentation highlighting the historical significance of the sight Columbus landed here, Taino Indians colonized it and had a ballfield here, and Europeans built a fort here — came a question and answer period.
None of the questions concerned preserving the site. They all concerned residents right to camp there.
Winston Nugent led the charge. He said the closing down of the Columbus Landing site to camping was an attack on Cruzan culture. He said the National Park Service had "closed half the ocean" to fishing and now this. He said this was a form of colonization. He said, "We will no longer be able to put two rocks together, start a fire, and roast a fish."
Plaskett fired back, "If you say it is our culture to throw things on the ground beer bottles and condoms. You are wrong. You don't need to sleep at a place to enjoy it."
Tutein said, "We are not restricting anyone from the beach. We are just restricting camping."
Sen. Ronald Russell also spoke up on the restriction of camping. He said the issue ought to be revisited, that people should be allowed access to the beach and to be able to camp in areas they are used to camping in. He asked if the National Park Service was willing to set aside camping grounds in the immediate area if the five acres surrounding the Columbus Landing area, which also encompasses the Taino ball court area, is made off limits.
Tutein said the National Park Service has a process it has to go through before it can establish a camping area.
Plaskett said his department was trying to redirect campers toward Kramer's Park, although, he admitted that area, during the Easter camping season, was generally saturated
A representative from the Department of Housing, Parks, and Recreation said that department had secured funding of over $1 million to develop camping in the Great Pond area.
The camping issue was the only issue that raised divisiveness. The couple of dozen officials and citizens at the event appeared united in the effort to preserve the area and make it more tourist friendly.
Berry said, "We want to make this an internationally recognized historic site."
She continued that preservation of the site and making it attractive to tourists could be instrumental in bringing cruise ships back.
Stanford Deno, director of operations, International Council of Cruise Lines, who was on island this week for the convention of police commissioners, was asked Wednesday by the Source if the cruise lines would start making regular stops on St. Croix again. He answered, "It is up to the Crucians, the cruise lines and our customers are always looking for different places to stop."
Berry termed what is going on at Salt River as a "mission" taken on by the working task force in March of this year and a continuation of the effort started in 1992 when the first parcel of land was acquired in the area. Presently the V.I. government owns 600 acres in the area and the federal government owns 225. The area known as Columbus Landing, where camping will definitely be restricted, only includes five acres. The visitor's center, which as yet has not been opened to the public on a regular basis, sits on the hill overlooking the site. The center has been where three of the four task force's meetings have been held.
Already a trash bin, sitting on the spot where the entrance to the fort built in the mid 17th century was, has been removed. Signs that are to go up in the area have been delayed a couple of weeks because the exact dates of the fort are under scrutiny. However, the signs should be up and vehicle access to the sight should be blocked within a month or two, according to officials.
As far as blocking off vehicle access to the beach, it won't be in violation of V.I. law according to Tutein. He said a court case, during the time of the establishment of the National Park at the fort in Christiansted, said just so pedestrian access was not blocked the law was not violated.
At the last meeting of the task force it appeared to be the group's aim to have parking along the road. (See "Officials See Progress at Salt River, Plan More").
However, Bruce Tilden, curator of Fort Frederik Museum and an active member of the group, said plans are now to purchase a couple of acres at the foot of the hill upon which the visitor's center is located and build a parking lot there.
Tilden was involved in the early excavation of the site. He said a Danish coin from the early 17th century was found at the site and put on display at Fort Frederik. Some one broke into the fort and stole the coin.
Besides members of the media and those mentioned above attending the event were Sens. Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Craig Barshinger, and former Senators Anne Golden and Vernon Browne.
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