St. John Community Foundation Has Exciting Plans for Gifft Hill Land

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Volunteers have already cleared invasive plants and are working on pathways on the SJCF land, above and below.

A two and a half acre parcel of land on Gifft Hill Road just past Bellevue Village will one day be a verdant green space with winding pathways and a bounty of fruits and vegetables.

While that vision might be still a few years away, St. John Community Foundation executive director Celia Kalousek is already excited about the possibilities and her enthusiasm is contagious.

“There will be pathways around the ruins with signs identifying the flora and fauna and the history,” said Kalousek. “We’ll have little plots for community gardens with fruit trees and herbs and bush tea plants. The view from the land is amazing; you can see Puerto Rico and St. Croix.”

“The garden could be a great educational tool for youth about the environment and history,” said the SJCF executive director. “We’re talking to different partners about having offices and archives up there. There are so many exciting possibilities.”

The land was donated to SJCF by Reliance Housing Foundation, which constructed the nearby Bellevue Village affordable housing community, explained Kalousek.

“Reliance donated the land to SJCF with the stipulation that it be used for the benefit of the community,” she said.

SJCF officials have plans to eventually build an office and community center on the property with the community garden winding around the area, Kalousek added.

“We’ve been going through various versions of community center plans since we were given the land six years ago,” she said. “We want to have focus group meetings and meet with potential partners. The center is going to belong to the community, so we want people to partner with us and come up with ideas of what the community needs.”

Several options include providing a meeting space, assembly area and archive location for community groups, Kalousek explained.

While continuing to plan for an actual building on the site one day, SJCF officials are focusing on clearing the land to showcase its potential. Stop by the property some Monday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and Kalousek will be there along with a few volunteers pulling catch-and-keep and yanking tan-tan.

“We got the area cleared of the five invasive species with a grant from the Division of Urban Forestry,” said the SJCF executive director. “We’re creating pathways now and we definitely plan to incorporate the history with signage about the homestead that was there.”

Kalousek envisions partnering with nearby Gifft Hill School and working on agriculture projects, composting, history and more.

“SJCF has partnered with Gifft Hill School on various projects and there is a lot of potential in a project like this for agriculture, forestry, history, art and science,” she said.

SJCF is also hoping to eventually secure a Community Development Block Grant to cover the cost of constructing a building, which the group to have its own office.

“Having our own building where we could have office space would lower our overhead and allow us to streamline our services,” said Kalousek. “There would also be meeting space for any community groups who need it.”

In the meantime, Kalousek is looking for volunteers to help her continue to clear the land and keep those tan-tan at bay. To help, just stop by the property on Mondays between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. or call Kalousek at SJCF at 693-9410.