V.I. National Park Beaches Open
V.I. National Park beaches, waters and hiking trails to the beaches on St. John are open effective Sunday, Deputy Superintendent Mike Anderson said at 7 a.m. Sunday.
The beaches and the hiking trails and roads to beaches closed Oct. 1 when the federal government was shut down.
“Our management asked for clarification on beach access as related to how the park was created,” Anderson said.
He said that based on advice from the U.S. Interior Department’s solicitor’s office, the park decided to open the beaches and the hiking trails and park roads that lead to beaches. The North Shore Road that leads past most of the beaches was open throughout the week because it is a public road.
He said he was not clear on the specifics of what transpired since that discussion happened at the park’s southeast regional headquarters in Atlanta but had to do with the enabling legislation for the park.
“The legal interpretation was that we should provide public access to the beach,” he said.
Anderson pointed out that the opening of the beaches has nothing to do with the territory’s open shoreline law because federal law supersedes local law.
He said that lifeguards will return to duty Monday morning at Trunk Bay, the only beach that has lifeguards. Anderson said the Trunk Bay restrooms will also reopen.
The Visitor Center in Cruz Bay and Annaberg Plantation both will remain closed. Anderson said Hassel Island off St. Thomas is closed because the trails do not lead to beaches. Anderson said that trails on St. John that do not lead to beaches, such as Margaret Hill, remain closed. He said the popular Reef Bay trail ends at a beach so it is open.
However, Anderson stressed that should anyone using park facilities need help, the response is likely to be slow because 42 of the park’s employees remain on furlough. He said they should call the 911 emergency response number for help.
Those working are Anderson, enforcement rangers, the person who operates the water and wastewater treatment facilities, and effective Monday, the lifeguards. Superintendent Brion FitzGerald was among those furloughed.
Throughout the week, many people defied the closures. They tore down the yellow tape and moved barricades that closed parking lots.
Enforcement rangers spent the week asking those people to leave. Anderson said all did.
“We didn’t have to take any enforcement actions. There were no confrontations but lengthy discussions about the situation. At the end of the day, everybody was cooperative,” he said.
The beach opening news came just hours before a group calling itself Occupy St. John Beaches planned a gathering at Maho Bay Pavilion to protest the closures.
The park’s closure drew ire from many posters on travel forums, angry that their vacations were impacted. Some wrote to say they defied the closure and went to the beach anyway.
The closure also caused people who use the park for commercial purposes such as weddings to scramble to find new locations.
On St. Croix, Park Superintendent Joel Tuetein said while Christiansted National Historic Site’s buildings are closed, Buck Island Reef National Monument remains open. Tuetein said that a 1995 legal suit that happened in a previous federal government shutdown, ruled that that Buck Island must remain open.
However, he said poachers think Buck Island is closed and have been busy illegally taking lobster and fish.
“We’ve been doing citations,” Tutein, who is furloughed from his post, said.
Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge on St. Croix is closed because of the federal government shutdown, manager Mike Evans said Sunday.
Anderson said the park phones are not working but suggested if anyone had any questions, they contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He said that other park email addresses are non-functional, but because he is working, his works.