Residents and visitors to St. Croix will soon have a comfortable, unobtrusive place to observe more than 160 species of birds that live or visit the island.
The St. Croix Environmental Association’s new bird blind at Southgate Pond is well on its way toward completion and if the weather cooperates with volunteers Richard Gideon and Ian Nead a dedication ceremony will soon take place.
For more than 12 years the SEA has explored the possibility of making accommodations for visitors at its property known as the Southgate Coastal Reserve. The initial reserve was created in 1999 and expanded in 2000. An anonymous donor with an interest in birding and education donated the land to SEA. It is a little over three miles east of Christiansted, just north of East End Road. The reserve totals 100 acres and encompasses a coastal salt pond, mangrove forest, beach forest and upland grassland.
In 2007, SEA applied for a Coastal Zone Management permit for a nature center, classrooms and caretaker cottage on the property. Some residents protested. They wanted the property to stay the way it was. The beach is popular with day visitors, fisherman and campers. CZM denied the permit. SEA appealed the decision to the V.I. Board of Land Use Appeals and won the appeal, but it took more than three years and motivation for the project stalled and funding dried up during the economic downturn of 2008.
Now, according to Jennifer Valiulis, acting director of SEA, the organization is focused on the bird blind and an educational pavilion after the blind is complete. The pavilion would be a place where students could get out of the rain if the weather is inclement and SEA has one of its educational programs. Valiulis told the Source the pavilion would be little more than a concrete floor with a roof over it and it would be located closer to the main road.
Just west of the road that most people use to access SEA’s beach is the trailhead for the trail leading to the bird blind. SEA has been maintaining the trail for a couple years now and has installed educational signs. Valiulis said more signs are on the way. This year volunteers also planted about 150 native trees in Southgate. Many of them along the trail. The trees came out of a grant from the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands.
Valiulis says residents need not worry about SEA cutting off access to the property. She says SEA would like to make it easier for residents. This would include improving the road to the beach and the parking there. She described the present parking situation as “chaotic.”
In return for access she says SEA asks people to “be respectful of the beach.” This would mean not leaving trash on the beach.
The beach is noted for three species of sea turtles which nest there.
The bird blind project was in its initial stages just as the 2017 hurricanes hit. When the setback was complete, the area where the bird blind was to have been built was underwater. Valiulis says the blind, now on an elevated site, could be completed as early as the end of next month, but since there have been setbacks before, she remains cautious about setting a completion date.