Virgin Islands National Park: Another Park Threatened By Inbounds Development

Trunk Bay is one of the popular destinations at Virgin Islands National Park. Photo by Robert C. via flickr.

Valley Forge National Historical Park isn't the only unit of the national park system threatened by development on private lands that fall within its borders. Far from it. The latest case involves Virgin Islands National Park, where development on roughly 1,400 privately owned acres within the park's borders is harming park resources.

According to the National Parks Conservation Association, development on some of the private property scattered throughout the park is resulting in forest fragmentation and commercial and residential development around the historic sites.

"Sediment runoff from development is a major threat to water quality and the health of the marine ecosystem. The National Park Service has partnered with local and national nonprofit organizations to acquire some inholdings, but high real estate prices have made it difficult to protect historic landscapes and park habitats," says the advocacy group.

“The Virgin Islands attract millions of visitors each year, and we must ensure its unique marine ecosystem is protected for future generations to enjoy,” says Jason Bennis, NPCA's senior marine program manager. “The risk from development on privately owned land is a major threat to the health of the fish and wildlife of this unique marine park.”

According to an assessment by NPCA's Center for State of the Parks, the natural resources of Virgin Islands National Park and Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument are in “fair” condition, scoring an overall 73 out of 100 points. The report cites concerns about the effects of global climate change on sensitive coral reefs, and warns that the development within park boundaries is causing the proliferation of damaging, non-native species, as well as wildlife habitat fragmentation.

Moreover, a forthcoming national publication by NPCA will highlight Virgin Islands National Park as one of many national parks at risk from development on privately owned land within park boundaries.

“An increase in federal funding is critical to acquire land within park boundaries and restore our national parks,” said Mr. Bennis. “Private land within park boundaries is vulnerable to inappropriate development, and puts our national heritage at risk.”

Comments

Either the government or private conservation groups should buy the private land and donate it to the park. But if the landowners bought the land before the national park was created with zoning that permitted building homes, they have to be compensated or be permitted to build.