Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park: St Johns, Virgin Islands

Dates: March 22-29

Group Size: 2 student leaders, 1 staff advisor, 7 participants

Cost: $1700

Quick Facts:

  • Spend the week camping under the stars a stones throw from the beach.
  • Work hard clearing and maintain ruin sites
  • Learn about environmental justice issues.

Host Community:

Virgin Islands National Park, renowned throughout the world for its breathtaking beauty, covers approximately 3/5 of St. John, and nearly all of Hassel Island in the Charlotte Amalie harbor on St. Thomas. Within its borders lie protected bays of crystal blue-green waters teeming with coral reef life, white sandy beaches shaded by seagrape trees, coconut palms, and tropical forests providing habitat for over 800 species of plants.  While on the island, participants will be working with an organization called The Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park.  Friends is a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and preservation of the natural and cultural resources of Virgin Island N.P.     

Justice Issues:

Protection of Native Species - Invasive, or non-native, species are damaging native flora and fauna on St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John.  If left alone, these foreign invaders damage rare and sensitive native vegetation and limit the reproduction of endangered species such as sea turtles and migratory birds.  Also, protection and preservation of the mangroves and coral reefs is now critical.

Cultural Preservation - One of the unique features of Virgin Islands NP is that it contains numerous ruins throughout the park. The heart of the groups works will be to help in the park’s preservation efforts. Last year’s group spent the week clearing harmful, overgrown vegetation from the remains of a house dating back to the 1700s.

Island Sustainability - The availability of freshwater resources is already a problem for many island communities, because of their unique geography and the growth of population, tourism, and urban centers.  Many islands suffer from frequent droughts and water scarcity from not enough precipitation.  Little things we may take for granted are huge predicaments in island communities for example garbage disposal and environmental disaster prevention.

Cultural Opportunities:

Virgin Islands National Park’s diverse beaches, coral reefs, historic ruins, and hiking trails provide endless hours of exploration and enjoyment, as well as inspiration and opportunities for solitude and reflection.  Expect to enjoy a variety of activities on the land and in the water, including swimming, snorkeling, hiking and bird watching.  Participants will have a variety of opportunities to work outdoors and indoors. The main projects are trail maintenance, painting, carpentry, removing invasive plants, or cleaning up a beach.

Experience is necessary with these activities because the site has full-time volunteers and staff members who work alongside the participants in all of the projects but good physical condition is recommended. 

A Sample Week:

Monday - Wake up to the sounds of the Caribbean Sea and roll out of your tent in the Cinnamon Bay campgrounds.  Take a leisurely stroll along the waterfront and then start pan-cooking some flapjacks for the rest of your group.  Explore the island on a long hike with your group and discover the vast biodiversity of the Virgin Islands.  Finish the day with a large stove cooked meal and a night of reflection under the stars.. 

Tuesday - Begin working at your site.  This will probably require a long hike through the island to a place of cultural and historical importance.  Eat a brown bag lunch of PB and J and tortillas with honey.  Take a dip in the blue Caribbean to cool off. In the evening, you will be visited by a local historian who tells you all about the ruins where you are working.

Wednesday - In the morning hike to the Annaberg Sugar Mills, a large sugarcane plantation that is still wonderfully preserved.  Head across the island to the more arid region for a look at conservation efforts by other island groups.  Return for an afternoon of beach fun, Frisbee, wave-riding, and sun-bathing.

Thursday - Spend the morning fighting the brush and vines at your worksite and weeding out invasive species.  Begin devising a midnight snorkel trip.  Spend the afternoon getting to know locals and visit some of the island’s cities.  After Dinner, share in conversation with long-term volunteer, Jeff Chabot, discussing his life and the justice issues of the region. 

Friday - Wind down your work project.  Snorkel at some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  Make sure your tent is still standing after a week of sleeping and camp life.  Go fishing in the afternoon.

Saturday - Wake up early and watch the sun rise over the island.  Take down camp and prepare for the ferry ride back to the airport and the receding winter of Minnesota.

Food, Lodging, and Travel:

The group will fly to the Charlotte Amalie where they will then taxi over to the island of St. Thomas.  You will spend the week camping in tents at Cinnamon Bay campground.  You will prepare all your meals at the campsite. At the site you will be driven around in a 12 passenger van.

Cost:

The trip fee of $1700 includes van rental, site transportation, lodging, work materials for the site, meals, and programmed group activities. Additional expenses not included in the program fee, include: spending money  for souvenirs as determined by the group agreement and food en route to site (~$30).

Student Reflection:

“The Virgin Islands trip is a knock-out.   The service work of recapturing sites of historic importance on the island was meaningful not only for the Friends of the Virgin Islands, but for me as an individual.  I also loved that this  is a camping trip.  You are cooking meals on primuses, sleeping in tents, counting the stars.  There is nothing to compare to hearing the waves of the rolling sea from your tent while you are falling asleep on the soft sand with your tentmates.  Finally, I learned a great deal about the issues of the Caribbean .  We explored issues of island sustainability, tourism and colonialism.       

Kirk Rose

 

For more information visit: http//www.friendsvinp.org.