Dear Delegate Christensen,
The St. John Community Foundation endorses H.R. 53, legislation introduced by Congressional Delegate Donna Christensen.
This legislation would benefit the V.I. National Park by providing a superior educational facility on St. John, the center piece of which could be the cultural identity of St. John. This campus would be located on park land in accordance with the wishes of the benefactors who gifted the land to the park.
Indeed, the essence of Virgin Islands National Park is the relationship of the people who have lived here for centuries, and their relationship to this beautiful land. This relationship has come under assault by the explosive growth St. John is experiencing. Paradoxically, the park, which makes St. John so attractive to development, is putting the park and its resources at risk.
H.R. 53 allows the Secretary of the Interior to lease sufficient land to the government of the Virgin Islands to create one campus. The Secretary can impose conditions on the use of the land to ensure that the vision of a first-rate educational campus is realized. For example, any archaeological finds on the property can be integrated into the design of the campus, highlighting St. John’s rich cultural past and present.
The present educational facilities on St. John are far beneath what is required to educate our children. In fact, after ninth grade, our public school students are forced to commute to St. Thomas daily for high school. This leaves little opportunity for them to participate in after-school extracurricular activities which are an integral part of a well-rounded education.
While some cultural knowledge is imparted in the public schools, it is not sufficient to maintain St. John’s living cultural identity. The park, which occupies two-thirds of the island of St. John, is at risk of destroying something that it is chartered to protect — the natural and cultural history of this island. By supporting H.R. 53 and building this very special campus within the park, an emphasis on cultural preservation and environmental preservation can be achieved.
For these reasons, we endorse H.R. 53 and urge its passage by Congress and implementation by the Secretary of the Interior, in partnership with the government of the Virgin Islands.
Craig Barshinger, Vice President
St. John Community Foundation Inc.