Jan. 16, 2006 — Carol Cramer-Burke is emphatic about her relationship with the St. Croix Environment Association.
"My involvement with SEA has, literally, changed my life," Cramer-Burke said.
It probably would not be wrong to say that she has also changed SEA. Cramer-Burke began her environmental work on St. Croix as a volunteer for the VI ReLeaf Program in 1990. She became executive director of SEA in October.
Her first paid environmental position was when he became the coordinator of the ReLeaf Program in 1993. She stayed there until 2004.
She was the only employee in the program until 2001 and this meant getting her hands into the dirt of St. Croix often.
"I collected the seed, managed the greenhouses, taught lessons in elementary schools, planted trees on school grounds with kids and teachers," she said. "In 2001 we hired an assistant who took over much of the propagation responsibility but I continued to be very much involved in the 'dirty work.'"
Her first career, however, was not as an environmentalist. She graduated as a registered nurse from the Riverside Methodist Hospital School of Nursing in 1976. She practiced in a community hospital in Galion, Ohio for five years, and then as an intensive care nurse in Everett, Wash., for four years.
She moved to St. Croix in October of 1981 and worked for a small interior landscape company and in several restaurants as a waitress.
She stayed because she likes the island.
"The people, the beautiful weather, the ocean. I really like the wonderful mix of people," she said.
She married shortly after arriving on St. Croix and has a 20-year-old daughter.
There can be no doubt that her work with SEA has changed her life. She says that at one time she had no interest in bird watching, but now she lists it as her favorite pastime.
In a recent SEA newsletter she wrote, "Two years ago, the Southgate Coastal Reserve captured my attention and I discovered the wonderful world of birds. I'd done a couple of Christmas Bird Counts but hadn't yet caught the 'bird bug' until recording species counts at Southgate. With friends Lisa Yntema, Sheelagh Fromer and Doug McNair, I learned of some magical places nestled among the hills of St. Croix. Places often passed, but never noticed. These farm ponds provide crucial refuges for birds. Salt ponds, fresh ponds, mangroves, salt flats bugs and heat and thorny vegetation."
When asked what her favorite place was she answered, "Southgate Pond, especially at dawn on a cool winter morning."
However, after thinking about the question a while, she said, "You know, I have a lot of favorite places on the island. You have to think 'favorite place for what?'" She then mentioned hiking in the Rain Forest and meditating on the ocean at Ham's Bluff.
When she is not hiking or bird watching she finds pleasure in snorkeling or reading a good book.
"I like a wide range of literature – Larry McMurtry is one of my favorites; fantasy, historical novels and inspirational works. Also I read quite a lot of trade magazines such as Arborist News, Fundraising Journal, etc. Not as much fun, but informative."
She admits that seeing where St. Croix will be in the future is difficult, but she is confident that it can become a destination spot for ecotourism. And she has a vision.
"I see a future with a comprehensive land and water use plan in place, a state-of-the art recycling center and sanitary landfill, and a wastewater treatment system that provides for zero ocean discharge."
She doesn't think SEA can accomplish all those things on its own, however.
"There are many individuals, businesses, government agencies and non-profit organizations concerned with environmental issues and resource management," she said.
And it will be a focus of her work at SEA to join in collaborative efforts with those groups. She added that after all that work is accomplished, SEA could focus all of its efforts "on education projects and providing opportunities for St. Croix residents and visitors to enjoy the awareness of the biotic gem that is St. Croix."
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