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HomeNewsLocal newsNew V.I. Parks System Launches with Appointment of Director and Board

New V.I. Parks System Launches with Appointment of Director and Board

What, exactly, constitutes a “park”?

That’s one of the first things that must be decided now that the Virgin Islands has officially opened its newly created Division of Territorial Parks and Protected Areas.

Gubernatorially-sponsored legislation created the division within the Department of Planning and Natural Resources a year ago, and the administration has been working towards its implementation since then.

In announcing this week that the division is “a go,” DPNR Commissioner Jean-Pierre L. Oriol said the territory has taken “a momentous stride towards safeguarding its natural resources and prioritizing environmental conservation.”

Kristina “Kitty” Edwards is the director of the newly created Division of Territorial Parks and Protected Areas within the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. (Submitted photo)

Virgin Islands resident and University of the Virgin Islands graduate Kristina “Kitty” Edwards has been named director of the new entity. She has worked at DPNR for seven years, most recently as the education and outreach manager for the Division of Coastal Zone Management.

In an interview with the Source, Edwards also hailed the move. “The territory has wanted this for a long time,” she said.

While there’s a general understanding that the division will have responsibility for various tracts of government property, with emphasis on natural preserves, it is unclear exactly what lands will fall under its jurisdiction.

In announcing the initiative last year, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. said some 30 properties were already involved, but he did not list them. More would likely be added, he said.

Edwards was unable to provide a list of the properties under the division’s management, saying she is currently collecting that information.

They likely will include some parcels that have been donated to the local government with “the hopes” of being part of a V.I. park service, she said, as well as beachfront, salt pond and camping areas the government purchased last year at Sandy Point, and many other publicly-owned areas throughout the islands.

Some government properties that have been under the prevue of the Sports, Parks and Recreation Department probably will be transferred to the park system, Edwards said, but that will not include anything that already contains facilities.

One area that will not immediately be included in the new division is the proposed Maroon Sanctuary Park that Bryan announced last year he plans to create, although Edwards said that remains the intention.

Bryan has said he would enforce a 1983 provision of a rezoning law governing a 4,140-acre parcel of undeveloped land in the remote Maroon Ridge area in St. Croix’s Northwest Quadrant, which stipulated that at least 1,000 acres of the tract “be dedicated to a perpetual scenic and preservation easement.”  But the ensuing years and several changes of ownership of portions of the land have complicated matters.

“That property is not ready yet,” Edwards said. “We have some legal juggling to do.” However, she added, “That is a very high priority.”

There is uncertainty whether Whistling Cay, an uninhabited islet off of St. John, will be part of the park system. It stands now at the center of the controversy over the proposed school for St. John. The administration wants to swap the cay with the federal government in exchange for a parcel of National Park land to be used as a school site, but the plan has met vocal opposition from many St. John residents.

Edwards said simply, “I’ll be ready for any outcome.”

While some parklands may be maintained as preserves for endangered species, Edwards said the main focus of the park system will be on providing areas for public use and enjoyment.

“It’s going to be mostly undeveloped land” in the park system, she said, although some sites may contain cultural/historical structures. To that end, the division is working with the State Historic Preservation Office.

The legislation creating the division says it will “identify, supervise, administer, manage, regulate and control” all public campgrounds, natural areas, scenic waysides, historic sites, recreational trails, monuments, marine parks, and other sites as may be designated.

One reason for creating the division, as was said when the law passed, was to open the door to more federal funding for public lands, particularly through conservation grants.

Edwards said that Oriol, working with Calvert White, commissioner of Sports, Parks and Recreation, applied for and received federal funding to create a Territorial Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan. With that grant, the new division will hire a consultant to help develop the plan, which is a prerequisite for major funding.

The law set up a seven-member board consisting of four cabinet members, the president of the University of the Virgin Islands, and two people associated with non-profit entities. The DPNR commissioner is chairman of the board. The other commissioners – or their designees – on the board represent the departments of Tourism, Agriculture, and Sports, Parks and Recreation.

Six of the seven board members have been appointed: Oriol, White, Aaron Hutchins, Anna Francis, Carlos Tessitor, and Conn Davis.

Edwards said she hopes to meet soon with the board.

She indicated she expects that building a park system will be a challenge, but one she is eager to take on. If it were easy, she added, “I’d say we weren’t doing it right.”

Besides her years at DPNR, Edwards has worked at Coral World Marine Park and has been involved with various non-profits and environmental groups. She was on the board of directors for CORE VI (The Caribbean Oceanographic Restoration and Education Foundation.) for about 10 years.

She’s a diving enthusiast and enjoys the outdoors. Born and raised on St. Thomas, she said, “I love everyone of our islands and cays.”

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