CRUZ BAY — St. John Administrator Camille Parris Jr. says he wants to give the public a chance to clear the air with Virgin Islands National Park officials at a town meeting May 26.
Residents who show up at the St. John Legislature for the 6 p.m. meeting will have a chance to question VINP officials and comment on any aspect of park operations. Without sharing much detail, Parris said he chose the National Park as the May 26 topic because some residents raised issues with him about the National Park Service.
Virgin Islands National Park Superintendent Brion Fitzgerald, a 37-year employee with the National Park Service who began his stewardship on St. John two and a half years ago, said he accepted Parris’ invitation to attend the town meeting.
“He (Paris) had somebody call me and ask if I was willing to participate in a town hall meeting,” Fitzgerald said.
Other than that, there will be a few other speakers addressing the public at that time, Fitzgerald said.
The island administrator said he wanted to be more of a facillitator at the May 26 meeting and leave the talking to his constituents.
The Virgin Islands National Park has been around since 1956. Some of the most common issues raised between park officials and St. John residents over the years touch on fishing rights, traditional use of the coastline, historic estate roads and access to landlocked private property within the park boundaries.
There have been on-going attempts by Virgin Islands government officials to negotiate a land exchange with the NPS for park property in the center of the island with an eye towards relocating the Julius E. Sprauve School in Cruz Bay.
Fitzgerald, a soft-spoken former park ranger, said he became familiar with the St. John park through other NPS administrators he met and served with while at Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida.
Associations with veteran employees from the St. John park service were formed throughout his career, most of which was spent in the NPS southeast region, the superintendent said.
Fitzgerald said he enjoys the park’s recreational features and meets many local residents early in the morning or in the evening when he’s out for a run or taking a swim.
“I know the community is using the park in ways that I would if I weren’t working with the park, and that’s how it should be,” he said.
The superintendent said he gauges the relationship between the park and the surrounding community by talking to people — visitors, park staff members and community members.
“I would like to leave that up to the public,” Fitzgerald said. “I’d like for the public to come and vent… I don’t want to put anybody on the spot. I want this to be about the people, not the administrator.”
At the start of his term as the top appointed official on St. John, Parris said he wanted to conduct public forums every three months. The scheduled VINP town meeting will be his second.
About 40 residents attended the first town meeting in April which covered issues related to the operations of the Virgin Islands Port Authority.