Several visitors to the Virgin Islands National Park’s beaches have discovered the hard way that it is, in fact, a ticketable offense to park on North Shore Road.
After a Sunday afternoon, January 21, rash of warnings and and at least one ticket given to beachgoers at Maho Bay for parking on the road, residents are up in arms about the lack of striping and signage on North Shore Road.
“The rule says that the following are prohibited: stopping or parking a vehicle upon a Park road, except as authorized by the superintendent or in the event of an accident or other condition beyond the control of the operator,” said VINP Chief Ranger Mark Marschall. “A lane is supposed to be 10 feet. You’re safe if you don’t have your wheels on the pavement.”
VINP Issues Few Tickets
The VINP acknowledges that there is not proper striping and signage, however, by giving more warnings than tickets, according to Marschall.
“We issue very few tickets,” said the chief ranger. “Most people receive warnings. The rangers at Maho were enforcing obstructing traffic violations.”
Because of a lack of signage, Park rangers have to trust that those using the beach know they can’t park on the road, Mars-chall explained.
“At Maho, it’s just like most of the North Shore Road — we don’t have ‘no parking’ signs on the road, and we count on people to know that they can’t park in the road,” he said. “We need two lanes on the road, so that’s the main thing we’re enforcing out there.”
Parking illegally at Maho could do more than just block traffic — it could lead to erosion of the beach as well, according to Marschall.
“On the north side of the road, it’s really kind of critical habitat, because it’s critical that the root systems of the trees and vegetation there remain healthy and not have vehicles on them, because if the vegetation is lost, that beach would be lost,” he said. “That’s what is holding the beach together, and if the beach was lost, we’d have a greater chance of losing the road there also.”
We know it’s not the best situation, and right now there’s really not enough road for all the people who want to use Maho on any given day, which I think most people are used to,” he added.
Despite the possiblity of erosion, the Park ranger issuing tickets on Sunday afternoon, January 21, at one point parked his VINP vehicle on the beach-side of the road at Maho Bay, according to many eyewitnesses.
While some might think that the island’s size is a factor in the lack of parking in the Park, this is not a problem that’s unique to the VINP, Marschall explained.
Not Unique to VINP
“It’s certainly not a situation that’s unique to this National Park,” he said. “I just came from Yosemite, and I can tell you it’s been a huge issue there as well. You end up putting in so much paving to handle the cars that you’re kind of ruining the effect that people came to see.”
Yosemite’s solution to the lack of parking is a shuttle system, Marschall explained.
“Yosemite has been dealing with the problem by trying to provide shuttles and providing parking outside of the Park,” said the chief ranger. “Here, we obviously have great taxi service, which is our best solution right now. If someone absolutely has to use Maho Bay on a busy day, using the taxi is a good idea.”
The VINP has plans to construct a pavilion and additional parking spaces at Maho sometime in the future, according to the chief ranger.
Parking Control Measures
“We have a project that’s been approved and funded to improve the pavilion on the west end of the bay, and part of that project would add about four parking spots,” Marschall said. “The south side of the road is not Park property, so we don’t have the ability to build parking on that side.”
In the meantime, the Park plans to implement other measures to control illegal parking at Maho, the chief ranger explained.
“I just had some signs on stands made, so we’re going to be trying that and seeing if they can last out there,” said Marschall, who added that the Park hopes to avoid having to install permanent signage in the ground. “We haven’t wanted to put things in the ground there — we wanted to keep things on the surface. We are going to try the signs on stands at Maho first, because that’s what I see as most critical, where we’re getting potential resource damage.”
Striping, Management Boulders
Striping the road as part of the North Shore Road Rehabilitation Project and installing management boulders similar to those at Jumbie and Trunk Bays could be the next step to control parking at Maho, Marschall explained.
“Striping the road has been part of the plan, but I’m not sure when we are going to continue with that,” he said. “It’s less of a big deal to put in the signs on stands instead of getting equipment out there to put in boulders.”
Residents need to be aware that if they are parked on the road, they are susceptible to being ticketed, according to Marschall.
“If you are parked on the road blocking traffic, you can be ticketed,” he said. “You’re not supposed to park on the north side of the beach, because of the damage it can do to the vegetation in there. We’ve tried to block them off, but people move the obstacles and still park there.”
For those beachgoers who want to help with the parking problem, Marschall suggests carpooling.
“Just bear with us,” he said. “It’s not perfect, but it’s what happens when you have an attractive National Park. We have more vehicles than there are parking spaces.”