Virgin Islands National Park – 7,000 Acres of America’s Paradise
One of the very best aspects of St. John is undoubtedly the Virgin Islands National Park. The park encompasses about half of the island, ensuring the pristine alabaster beaches will remain just that, undisturbed for generations to come.
National Parks are touted as “America’s Best Idea” and here on St. John, I have to agree. The park here dates to about 60 years ago, when Laurence Rockefeller began acquiring land on the island, including most of the sandy beaches of the North Shore. This land would eventually become Virgin Islands National Park, but there were a few wrinkles along the way.
For these major land acquisitions, Rockefeller formed the Jackson Hole Preserve, and recruited several associates to help him acquire about half of this 20-square mile island.
A early effort of Rockefeller’s to get U.S. Congress to pass a bill turning the entire island into a protected park was met with fierce opposition by local families. Senator Theovald Moorehead — after whom our main barge facility today is named — even traveled to Washington, D.C., to fight the measure.
Once that bill was defeated, there was general support for the creation of a U.S. National Park on the island, which would protect the many cultural and natural resources and bring needed tourism to this sleepy Caribbean outpost.
U.S. Congress passed the bill creating V.I. National Park in 1956 and since then the park has grown even further and deeper. An additional 5,000 acres was added in 1962 and Hassel Island — with its historic marine railroad dating from when St. Thomas was a major shipping port — was added in 1978.
Before leaving office in 2001, President Bill Clinton signed an act protecting a large area of submerged land off the island’s East End, creating the Coral Reef National Monument.
Just last month the national non-profit organization Trust for Public Land sold the final parcels of a 225-acre tract to the National Park Service for $2.5 million. This most recent land sale included the shoreline of one of the island’s most popular beaches, Maho Bay.
Whether swimming in the azure waters off shore of one of our achingly beautiful bays, snorkeling the biologically rich mangroves of the Coral Reef National Monument or hiking one of the 20 trails traversing St. John, it’s almost impossible not to enjoy our National Park.
My favorite beaches and hiking trails have changed over the years, but the recently preserved for perpetuity Maho Bay, is a perennial favorite. Francis Bay’s many little tree-covered nooks are a great place to spend an afternoon as well.
Snorkeling off Salt Pond Bay will usually reward you with a turtle spotting, while Haulover Bay’s coral colors are some of the most impressive around.
For hiking trails, it’s tough to beat Ram Head point on an early morning or full moon night. There are several hidden hiking gems out by Lameshur Bay and a recent favorite trail of mine is a two-mile trek to Brown Bay and back which rewards with stunning views, great snorkeling and beautiful ruins.
While I’ve explored a vast area of the island, there are still many hikes and bays I’ve never seen. That is something I would like to change. So this year, my New Year’s resolution is to hike all 20 of the trails in our Virgin Islands National Park. If you head down this way, check out one or two yourself.
Happy New Year!
Written by: Jaime Elliott