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St. John Tops Them All

Photo by Steve Simonsen

Photo by Steve Simonsen

St. John was recently named to the top spot of not one, but two travel lists.

TripAdvisor named St. John the best island in the Caribbean as part of its 2013 Travelers’ Choice Awards. Here’s what they had to say:

“Ecotourism is alive and kicking on St. John. There’s more than enough to do on land, from watching for wildlife in the national park to hiking miles of trails or strolling sandy white beaches. Hit the water for amazing snorkeling, swimming, even underwater photography—of course. This is the Caribbean, after all.”

The award is based on traveler’s opinions and submitted reviews. TripAdvisor ranked St. John the second best island in the world earlier this year.

St. John was also named the top snorkeling destination in the Caribbean earlier this week.

Islands Magazine referred to St. John as “the belle of the ball” and even mentioned renowned local photographer Steve Simonsen in the article. Here’s a bit of what they had to say:

“When you spend the bulk of your professional life snorkeling the reefs of St. JohnUSVI, aiming your underwater camera at a succession of bikini-clad babes and creating images for clients such as Kodak, National Geographic and Playboy, a day off seems like a wasted opportunity. But if you’re CT+L contributor Steve Simonsen, you still grab your snorkel and head for the water. At Leinster Bay, you’ll hit belly-scrapingly shallow water just yards away from the path to Water­lemon Cay, where the skinny water is packed with millions of sardine-size silverside. The baitfish ebb and flow around you as you move, so don’t be surprised to find yourself dive-bombed by a pelican looking to fill its bill.

“In deeper water, vast schools of French grunts and goatfish move amid fields of Venus sea fans. On a recent four-hour masked marathon in Leinster Bay, Simonsen tailed a sea turtle as it grazed on grass and then tried to crack open a small conch, and he spied healthy young stands of endangered elkhorn corals five to eight feet in diameter.”

Now you know you’ve got a good thing going when you get two pretty cool awards in one week. Keep up the good work St. John.

NPS’s Response to What’s Happening in Denis Bay

Ingrao Property
In a nutshell, the National Park Service here on St. John is not happy but in a way, their hands are tied.

News of St. John recently spoke with Bryon FitzGerald. He’s the Superintendent of the National Park Service (NPS) here on St. John. FitzGerald started this position in March of this year. That’s when one of his staff members notified him about what was going on over at Denis Bay.

“What we found out back in March was that a bunch of trees had been cut down on what I would call the upper curve,” FitzGerald said. “At that point in time, we didn’t know with any level of certainty if they were on our property or not. We then went to identify if they were on our property or not. We believe that it is on our property but we do not have any definitive proof yet.”

Because the exact National park boundaries are in question, FitzGerald said NPS is having the property surveyed. He said that the property owner, Tony Ingrao, is also entitled to have the property surveyed. FitzGerald said that the NPS is also planning to have an ecologist survey the area. Once NPS determines the exact boundaries and the extent of the damage, they plan to work with Ingrao to mitigate the damage.

News of St. John has reached out to Ingrao on several occasions. He has yet to respond to telephone and email messages left with his office. Ingrao did, however, tell FitzGerald that he planned to work with NPS to mitigate the damage.

“He has told me that he will do whatever we ask him to do to mitigate whatever damages he needs to do to fix the damage to park property,” FitzGerald said.

Once the surveys are completed, NPS will ask Ingrao to replant trees, add soil to stabilize the ground and the banks, and plant ground cover to prevent further erosion from damaging the parkland.

As of right now, FitzGerald said, “there is no question that the dirt is coming down into the park.”

So how exactly did the bulk of the damage occur?

Ingrao installed two gabion baskets, which are steel structures filled with several tons of rocks and soil. They’re typically used in road building and for erosion control. Well there was one week back in May that had two days of pretty heavy rain. During that second rainfall, one of the gabion baskets gave away. FitzGerald said the basket, which contained soil and large rocks, slid down and took out National Park trees. At that time, FitzGerald met with Ingrao’s on-site representatives.

“At that time, a chunk of road was undercut so there was a huge amount of dirt that was still in danger of falling into the park,” FitzGerald said. He then met with a director of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. “Between the two of us, we said you’re done. We said you’re finished here unless you can get in here safely and remove this dirt safety from the overhang, so it doesn’t get into the park”

“At that point, they knew they needed a retaining wall. I said as long as the wall is on the road and not park property, I have no complaints. They needed to dig down to get stability to make road. I again said fine, but said when you are done, I need you to cover dirt so it doesn’t wash down into park. They dug down and they covered dirt with the cloth. That’s still there today. They did plant the upper curve area to stabilize the upper portion until they get pavement. They have stopped work.”

(News of St. John witnessed numerous workers at the job site earlier this week, however, all appeared to be working on the home only.)

Now there is the question of permits. FitzGerald said he has requested to see a copy of the permits but as of yet, he has not been able to obtain one. One main issue he has in terms of what happening is that the NPS is not the permitting authority. The Department of Public Works and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources are. The three organizations are currently working together, FitzGerald said.

“The Park Service is not the permitting authority and we are working with DPW and DPNR,” FitzGerald said. “Now going forward, what should happen is when a permit is issued on property that goes through National Park Service property, we would certainly like to be notified.”

Again, FitzGerald said NPS has stopped any further damage from occurring within the park and that the damage assessment will take some time to complete. What he does know is that the damage is extensive. He estimated it to be roughly three football fields wide and deep.

Click here to see images and a video of the damage.

Click here to read about the fines Ingrao received.

Recently Fined Denis Bay Property: See for Yourself

News of St. John took a stroll over to the Denis Bay property, which was recently fined by DPNR for cutting into and building on National Park land. This is what we found:

A handwritten sign warning drivers that the road is closed:
Road Closed Denis Bay

Evidence of the cut:
The cut Denis Bay

The mechanical room that is said to have been built on National Park land. This was built across the roadway from the home:
Mechanical Room Denis Bay

The retaining wall built alongside the road:
The House Denis Bay

Evidence of the landslide:

Falling Rock Denis Bay

National Park Boundary Sign:
Boundary Denis Bay

The damage was pretty extensive in our opinion here at News of St. John. Check out this video to see for yourself.

You can read our original story on this here.

Please check out News of St. John tomorrow to hear what the National Park Service has to say about all of this.


New St. John App Debuts

Screenshot Cimmaron App

Looking to have everything there is to know about St. John in the palm of your hand? Well, there’s a new app for that.

Cimmaron St. John just released a new and extremely thorough smartphone app, and I have to admit, it’s pretty cool.

“If it’s on St. John, it’s on our app,” said David Conro, owner of Cimmaron St. John.

The app essentially takes all of the information contained in one of Cimmaron’s guest binders and expands on it. It includes details on restaurants, activities, island events, the history of St. John and more. The really neat thing, and this is for Cimmaron guests only, is that it also includes property-specific information too.

So let’s just say that you are spending the week over at La Jolla Caribe. Once you sign on to the app, you can see all of the information specific to that villa. The type of information available may include wifi passwords, safe combinations, as well as other security details. It’s a pretty handy feature to have on your phone in the event that it’s needed.

Again, the app is available to both guests and non-guests. It is free and can be downloaded on your smartphone.

Click here to download the app on your Apple product.  Click here to download the app in the Google Play store.

And for more information on Cimmaron, click here.

New Babysitting Service Launches on Island

Kids Night In

Leslie McKibben, Owner of Kids Night In

Looking for a night out on the town sans children? How about an afternoon over at the Soggy Dollar? Or perhaps some me time at Mongoose Junction? Well for those of you looking for a responsible and affordable on-island babysitter, there’s a new service just for you.

Kids Night In is a recently-launched babysitting service provided by Leslie McKibben. Leslie is an experienced pediatric physical therapist who moved to St. John earlier this year. The great thing about Kids Night In is that it comes to you.

“I have provided services (at guests’ villas) for a romantic night out, a day trip to the BVIs … and of course, a night of adult ‘libations’ without little kids’ eyes watching … Or when locals need help with a work schedule or a night to play grown up-style,” Leslie said.

But this isn’t just all about the parents having fun – The kids have a lot of options too. A few activities available are baking, scavenger hunts, hiking, pool fun, crafts, dance parties, games, iPad educational games and more.

Kids Night In costs $20 per hour plus $5 an hour per additional child. Locals receive a discounted rate.

Kids Night In is a fully-licensed business. It can be reached by phone at (321) 431-9113 or by email here. You can also check out its Facebook page here.

Get a Taste of Cafe Roma This Weekend

Roma Night at Castaways

I’m not sure about all of you, but I’ve sure missed Cafe Roma over the past few months. Well, I  have some good news for those of you who enjoy Roma as much as I do – it’s coming back! But for one night only…

Hey, one night’s better than none, right?

Castaways is holding an event this Sunday night to benefit Cafe Roma in its rebuilding efforts. The event will feature some Cafe Roma favorites such as the Rajun Cajun, Penne Broccoli and their popular zeppolis.  The event will also feature live music, drink specials and more than $5,000 worth of raffles in addition to a silent auction.

Tickets can be purchased in advance for $20 at Connections or for $25 at the door. Raffle tickets are $5 each or five for $20. You can purchase raffle tickets at High Tide, Castaways, Across the Street or Connections in both Cruz Bay and Coral Bay. For those of you off-island, you can purchase tickets online here. You do not need to be present to claim your prize.

Raffle prizes include: $500 Kro-Gu Jewelry Gift Certertificate; Sadie Sea Sunset Cruise for up to 30 people; Nightwind Day Sail; 2 night stay at Tamarind Court; dinghy rental from Noah’s Little Arks; Cloud 9 sunset sails; “Kickin it Class” at the Westin; as well as gift certificates from Tap Room; Tamarind Court; Ronnie’s Pizza; Driftwood Daves; Simply Italian; Woody’s; Across the Street; Quiet Mon Pub; and Castaways.

The event is being held tomorrow at 5 p.m. at Castaways.

Friends of National Park Receives $15k Grant to Restore Beaches

Maho Bay Plantings

Restoration plantings at Maho Bay

The Friends of the National Park just received a $15,000 grant thanks to the island’s largest eco-friendly villa and spa.

Eco Serendib Villa and Spa awarded the grant for the continuation of the Eco Serendib Beach Restoration Project. This highly impactful conservation effort protects St. John’s coastline from the damaging impact of erosion while reducing the carbon footprint. It does so by re-introducing indigenous trees and shrubs, such as sea grape, at beaches throughout the island. The project is funded solely by Eco Serendib.

For those of you who are not familiar with Eco Serendib, it’s actually a pretty neat villa and spa that gives guests the opportunity to become involved with the green project. They have the opportunity to get involved through tours, demonstrations and even hands-on planting, cultivating and irrigation. Funds are raised through dollars specifically set aside from reservations for this purpose. The program was created as a way to give back and expand conservation efforts throughout the island.

“Our beaches are a national treasure and critical to the sustainable economy of the USVI,” Harith Wickrema, Eco Serendib’s chief visionary officer, said in a release. “It is our hope that others in the hospitality community will be inspired to set aside funds too – even just a dollar for each reservation night would make a meaningful contribution toward conservation efforts.”

Maho Bay Beach was the first beach to receive funding from this project back in 2012. This year, Hawksnest, Trunk Bay, Cinnamon Bay and Francis Bay will all benefit from the funds.

Restoration plantings include sea grape, nothing nut, orange manjack, black torch and barbasco – plants that are native to the Virgin Islands and better able to control erosion, while discouraging invasive exotics. The project will also create shaded areas and new walkways to make certain that foot traffic doesn’t damage dunes. Plantings of seedlings have begun and the project will continue throughout the year.

For more information on the Beach Restoration Project, please click here.

Free Wi-fi Coming to Cruz Bay

It may take some time, but the Port Authority is looking to install free wi-fi at three Port Authority facilities on St. John.

The Port Authority is currently soliciting businesses to provide “free and affordable” wi-fi at the passenger ferry, car barge and National Park Service docks. The catch, however, is that the free wi-fi won’t be super fast, but users will have the option of purchasing a faster connection for a fee.

Passenger Ferry Dock

Passenger Ferry Dock

enighedpond

Car Barge Dock

SewerMarineFacility

National Park Service Dock

According to the request for proposal, the wi-fi must not cost the Port Authority a penny. The minimum access speed for the free version must be at least 1.5Mbps while the fee-based service must have a minimum bandwidth of at least 5Mbps. The faster, fee-based option will allow video streaming while the free version will not. The wi-fi has to meet the needs of all users, which is great, and must be available 24/7 – also great. Lastly, the Port Authority needs to make a profit off of it. Hmmm…

The Port Authority is also looking to install wi-fi at the Cyril E. King Airport in St. Thomas, as well as the Red Hook and Charlotte Amalie Port Authority facilities.

Bids are due at the beginning of September and a contract is expected to be awarded in October. That begs a question of the day – when do you think this will actually be in place by?

Who’ll Take the Crown at this Year’s Bar Wars?

Image courtesy of The Beach Bar

Image courtesy of The Beach Bar

Now this sounds like a lot of fun. For those of you lucky enough to be on the island this Saturday, be sure to stop by The Beach Bar for the 13th annual Bar Wars competition.

Bar Wars is a zany charity event that happens each August and features a lot of familiar faces. The event tests the bartending and waitressing skills of participants who happen to work at a variety of our favorite eating and drinking establishments. Each team has to work together to create, serve and drink beverages, all while completing a funky obstacle course. Sounds like fun, right? Well it gets even better.

The course doesn’t just occur on land; it also extends out into Cruz Bay. Teams will be required to hula hoop, swim, kick and more, all without spilling a drink. And to make it a bit more entertaining to watch, they need to do all of this while holding a ball in their hands. The team with the best time and the least amount of penalties wins.

The best part of the competition is that all of the proceeds from the event – it costs $100 per team to enter – will be donated to the Family Resource Center, which helps victims of crime in St. John, St. Thomas and Water Island.

A few of the participating bars/restaurants include: Motu, Banana Deck, Woody’s, Across the Street Bar, Joe’s Rum Hut, Castaways as well as many others from St. John and St. Thomas.

Spectators are encouraged to attend. So again, if you are lucky enough to be on the island this weekend, stop by The Beach Bar on Saturday and cheer on your favorite team. The event begins at 12:30 p.m.

Fresh, Organic Greens Available in Coral Bay

Josephine Roller

Josephine Roller shows off one of her pomegranate trees.

Looking for fresh greens while spending time on the island? Well look no further than Coral Bay Organic Gardens, also known as Josephine’s Greens.

Chances are you may have had the opportunity to sample some of Josephine Roller’s renowned greens while dining at one of the island’s restaurants, but we thought you should also know that they’re available to the public over at her Coral Bay garden.

Coral Bay Organic Gardens is located in Coral Bay on the same road as Love City Mini Mart. You’ll know you’re in the right area when you come across this sign, which warns tourists that they are lost. The garden is a bit down the road on the left-hand side.

You are Lost

This makes me laugh every time I drive past it.

Josephine and her husband Hugo first opened their business back in November 2006 when it was simply called Josephine’s Organic Greens. And just as the name states, all of Josephine’s products are organic and free of pesticides. Despite island challenges of poor soil, harsh weather, lack of water and cost of land, the Rollers have continued to offer St. John restaurants, visitors and residents a flavorful, healthy, local choice for organic greens and herbs.

The types of greens available vary from time to time, but you can typically find an abundance of mixed greens, spinach, collards, kale, bok choy, green beans, okra, sunflower sprouts and herbs at Josephine’s garden. In addition to selling fresh, organic greens, the Rollers are also one of the island’s main commercial growers. Their 18-acre farm is pretty impressive. Stop by and check it out for yourself.

Coral Bay Organic Gardens is open daily in season from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Hours may change in off season, so it’s best to call before visiting. The number is (340) 693-5579.

(On a side note, Hugo is looking to create a new green resort on a portion of the Roller’s 18-acre farm. You can read more about that venture here.)