My Take on St. John
When I first visited St. John in 1965, it was beautiful. The coral and the many beautiful fish on the reefs were stunning. I have watched a steady decline in the place ever since then. The huge numbers of roads, homes, and other structures that have been built have not only changed the look of St. John but the runoff from poorly built roads that continually wash out, a total lack of sewage treatment on most of the island and in the ever increasing number of boats in the bays and surrounding waters that just dump their raw sewage overboard, have destroyed a lot of the marine environment that I saw years ago. Believe me you don’t want to swim in Coral Bay.
This destruction has not all been due to uncontrolled building outside the National Park. The Park Service has done their share of sending silt into the bays. At Lameshur Bay the old Danish road (now called the Bordeaux Mountain Trail) that goes up toward Centerline Road was partly bulldozed so that the ranger living at the historic plantation house could drive his vehicle home.
The road goes straight down the hill and every time it rains, the dirt goes straight into Lameshur Bay.
The Park service has “improved” the Lameshur Bay road so that visitors and the ranger can get to Lameshur Bay. The original road was really not suitable for cars but now visitors can get through most of the time.
Again, the work done on the road leaves much to be desired and the silt goes to the bays whenever it rains. To be fair, I hear that there are plans to try to resolve some of these issues. There is some recent information on this topic HERE.
Be sure to view the photos on the last page.
Feral and non native animals such as cats, pigs, donkeys, mongoose, goats, etc. cause a lot of damage in the park by stripping areas of vegetation and killing off native species. Periodically, the NPS gets funding to remove some of these animals from the park. If you wander off the trail a bit you will find pig traps that are not set or maintained. I stumbled on a bunch of traps for catching mongoose that had been tossed over a wall when the people in charge of the program didn’t want to come back any more.
Again, I have to admit that it is probably impossible to keep feral animals out of VINP due to the surrounding farm operations and inholdings. It is however disappointing to see that efforts to control the problem are so sporadic.
About the hiking trails and maintenance (or the lack thereof): In the years I have been going to St. John, the NPS has done very little trail maintenance, in fact it seems that the NPS expends more time, effort, and money preventing people from clearing the trails than is spent doing the work. . From time to time, a crew will be hired to clear one of the main trails. The reaction in the past to a trail getting totally overgrown has, in many cases, been to remove it from the map given out at the NPS Visitor’s Center. There have been groups of volunteers that have done a lot of work but there is no person or department in the VINP that maintains trails and many get neglected to the point that they are impassable. At least we have GPS tracks for most of the trails and they could be reconstructed if anyone cared. If you find the trails to be overgrown, write a letter to the Superintendent of the VINP, 1300 Cruz Bay Creek, Cruz Bay, St. John, VI 00830. A copy to your representatives in Washington always helps.
There are a number of entitled people that grew up on St. John who do not like outsiders hiking around on “Their Island”. They don’t want a map showing how to get places and will do their best to prevent old trails and roads from being cleaned up.
Probably the most outspoken of the lot is Eleanor Gibney. I recall one of her outbursts where she proclaimed “There are places where people shouldn’t go!” I realize she grew up here when there were few people and it was a much more beautiful place. It must have been a wonderful experience. She doesn’t seem to understand that Virgin Islands National Park belongs to the people of the United States and is supposed to be maintained and preserved for their and future generations enjoyment. Go explore YOUR PARK.
St. John runs on Island Time. On your first visit to St. John you will be frustrated by the general level of service almost everywhere. One of the restaurant/bars that I like has a motto posted that reads “SAME DAY SERVICE”. Their service is just fine, “It’s a pretty OK place”. Nothing on St. John happens in a hurry and when people with the Island Time attitude get government jobs, the syndrome gets magnified.
Go to the Cruz Bay Post Office and try to get the clerk to do something and you will get the idea. I tried to pick up a package that was waiting for me there. After a half hour of standing in line, the clerk told me it was out in the trailer and gave me a slip to allow me to pick it up.
If you zoom in a little you will see a yellow note on the door that says “Be Back Soon” and note that the keys are hanging in the lock. Be thankful that the postal security precautions will prevent your packages from ending up in the wrong hands. The postal storage trailer is on a busy street with no fence to prevent people from taking anything they want as they pass by. After I waited for the “soon” time to go by, the clerk took my slip and wanted to know “What does the package look like?” it seems that if you don’t know what your package looks like the chances of finding it are slim to none. Luckily for me, I had mailed the package to myself and knew what it looked like.
There seems to be little oversight of who is doing what if anything at all in the VINP. There are some good people at VINP but there is a lot of dead wood that does very little except collect a paycheck. There is a lot of theft of tools, equipment and fuel from the maintenance area. Most of the people who have been there for a while like it the way it is. I have seen new rangers come to St. John but the good ones usually leave in frustration after a year or less. Historically, the superintendent position has been a retirement post and lasts for a few years. These people usually just don’t want to take on the probably hopeless battle to shape the place up. It isn’t a bad place to finish up your career with the NPS and if you “Don’t Worry Mon” it should be smooth sailing.
A few years ago a fellow named Mark Hardgrove took the superintendent job. I met him a week or so after he arrived and he said “VINP has a 20 year backlog of maintenance and I am going to fix it”. I have to give him credit as he has done some good work. Sadly, he will soon depart but the park will be a better place than when he came. I hope the next superintendent will continue working on the maintenance backlog.
In spite of all the things that could be better, St. John is still a beautiful place. You can come here and enjoy the beautiful beaches, the blue water and if you get off the road and walk a bit you will be away from the crowds and maybe find a bit of paradise.
Last of all, after you have gotten used to St. John and its inhabitants you will probably agree that the attached bumper sticker, seen on a Jeep, is appropriate.