Major Portion of Coral Bay, Marsh Estate Proposed as Territorial Park

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The Egbert Marsh Estate’s 170 acre parcel of land constitutes much of the Coral Bay valley, above and below.

Residents at the Coral Bay Community Council’s official ground breaking ceremony for its watershed restoration projects (see related story on Cover Page), delighted in the news Attorney William Blum shared with the crowd.

Blum was on hand for the event as a representative of the Egbert Marsh Trust, the owners of a 170-acre parcel which is a major portion of the Coral Bay valley. Instead  of wanting to develop the property, Egbert Marsh’s grandson, Sheldon Marsh, hopes to sell it to the V.I. Government to create a public territorial park, Blum announced at the groundbreaking ceremony.

“It is hoped that the government will acquire this historically significant property to make it into a very special park for the people of the Virgin Islands,” said Blum.

 

The parcel of land stretches from the north side of King Hill Road on the valley floor all the way to Ajax Peak on Centerline Road and includes extensive ruins from the former plantation including a great house, mill and cemetery.

 

It was the cultural significance of the land which prompted Sheldon Marsh, to try to protect the area from a bulldozer, he explained.

“Since I was a little kid I have always wanted to protect those ruins,” said Marsh. “There are two sugar mills in there, horse mills, slaughtering buildings from when it was a cattle farm, the great house is still there and there is a cemetery there from the Germans who owned the property in the 1880s before my family owned it.”

Marsh, who lives in Connecticut, has been working with federal and territorial agencies on the park plan for about two years now. Under the current plan for the area, Marsh is trying to secure matching funds to make the parcel easier for the local government to acquire.

The current asking price on the table is $12 million, 75 percent of which would be paid under the plan by a grant from the Washington, D.C.-based Forest Legacy, Marsh explained.

That would leave the V.I. Government with only having to foot 25 percent of the bill for the property, or less if local funds are secured to drive the price down even further, Marsh added.

“The government is looking now to try to figure out a way to get more local matching funds for the parcel,” he said. “We’re also working with the Forest Service of the Virgin Islands on this project.”

Marsh is not in the position to simply hand the deed over the government, but hopes the matching fund arrangement will result in a positive outcome for the Egbert Marsh Trust, the V.I. Government and the people of the Virgin Islands.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Marsh. “We’re not Rockefellers — we can’t just give this away. But we wanted to balance conservation with making the Trust viable.”

The first step toward creating the park will be a mandated appraisal of the area by the federal government. If all goes according to plan — which is by no means certain — the area could be turned into a territorial park by the end of the year, according to Marsh.

“The grant should be announced by the end of the year,” said Marsh. “But if the federal government decides not to award the funds all at one time, that will be a delay of at least a year. But I’m optimistic that we’ll realize this as a park within a year or so.”

Senator at Large Craig Barshinger has been working with the Egbert Marsh Trust and Attorney Blum for months to help on the local government side of the plan.

“This is not just some junk land that they are looking to get rid of,” said Barshinger. “This is excellent prime land that has amazing cultural resources. These are tough economic times and the government can’t just shell out $12 million.”

“But we’ve been working with Attorney Blum for months now on finding matching partners,” said the senator. “This is a huge opportunity for us and for future generations.”