Fined Denis Bay Property Owner Featured in Architectural Digest

Image credit: Architectural Digest
Image credit: Architectural Digest

So back in January, we told you how Architectural Digest was planning to name Tony Ingrao to its 2014 AD100 list. For those of you not familiar with this list, it honors people it deems to be “the world’s best interior designers and architects.” And for those of you unfamiliar with Tony Ingrao, he’s the property owner in Denis Bay who was fined last year for building on and altering land owned by the National Park Service.

Take a moment to digest that if you will…

Not only has Architectural Digest honored Ingrao for his design and architectural skills, it also devoted an eight-page spread to his Denis Bay home in its 2014 issue – the same Denis Bay home that created an eyesore on the North Shore. But what riles me up the most is some of the verbiage used in the article. Take the headline for example:

“Making the most of a lush hillside spot, the duo carve out an exhilarating retreat overlooking the azure sea.”

Carve out. Yes, they certainly did carve out something over there in Denis Bay – they carved out a chunk of the National Park.

Let’s move on to the first sentence: “Americans are accustomed to taking liberties, especially when it comes to architecture.”

Ingrao certainly took some liberties when building his property. He built on other people’s land, created a landslide and carved a huge chunk out of the hillside.

But Ingrao’s quote near the end of the article is the pièce de résistance: “This house is elemental. It feels like it’s growing out of the park.”

That’s because it is.

Comment away my friends. Comment away.

Click here to see the full story in its entirety.

Click here to email the editors at Architectural Digest in case you want to vent. 

Click here to read past coverage on Tony Ingrao and his Denis Bay property.

Reason #3,429 Why St. John is So Special (according to Jenn)

Donkeys at Caneel. We're not sure of any of these guys or gals are Scotty, but I'll venture to guess they may be related. :)
Donkeys at Caneel: We’re not sure of any of these guys or gals are Scotty, but I’ll venture to guess they may be related. 🙂

People often ask me what makes St. John so special. Sometimes it’s hard to put into words just how special this place is. For me, it’s a combination of the people and the sheer beauty of the island. Yesterday, however, the inner beauty and actions of several island residents overtook the island’s charm in a big way. Here’s what happened:

I received an email around 1:30 p.m. yesterday from a woman named Shannon. Shannon has lived in the Virgin Islands for more than 20 years. After a brief time off island, Shannon recently returned to St. John. (That in itself makes us happy.)

Here’s what she wrote:

“We were out at Cinnamon on Saturday and noticed (along with some other concerned folk) that a donkey was limping really bad and then retreated to the trees behind the sailboats there by the beach rentals and just laid down for most of the afternoon. Apparently these tourists had noticed this some days prior and called the National Park Ranger who then came in that afternoon to look at the donkey. The tourists told us that he had planned to have ‘someone’ from St. Thomas come on Monday to sedate him and take a look, it appeared to him that the donkey simply had something stuck in his hoof.”

Shannon continued, “Well, we went to Cinnamon again yesterday and much to our dismay the poor donkey was still laying in the trees behind the sailboats. Another donkey has taken up residence to soothe him or her. It’s so sad.”

Shannon then mentioned how she notified the National Park Service and asked if we could help. Naturally we said we would.

We first reached out to Thomas Kelly, the Natural Resources Manager at the National Park Service. Within an hour, we heard back from Thomas who confirmed that the NPS was aware of the donkey’s injury. He stated that they had hoped the injury would have taken care of itself as these types of injuries typically do. Thomas thanked us for reaching out to him, and we knew that NPS would follow up.

In the meantime, we contacted Leslie McKibben. Leslie is the newest board member of the Animal Care Center. I explained the issue to Leslie and asked her to reach out to fellow board member Oriel Smith. Oriel works at Caneel Bay Resort and takes care of the property’s many animals, including a number of donkeys.

As luck would have it, the ACC was having a board meeting last night. About an hour later, Leslie informed me that the donkey “will be taken care of.” I was ecstatic.

Leslie spoke with Oriel who stated the donkey’s name was Scotty. Scotty the donkey used to live over at Caneel, according to Oriel, before moving over to Cinnamon. Fortunately Oriel knows this particular donkey well and is planning on checking in on him today, Thursday. Oriel also plans to contact a local vet to assist in treatment, Leslie said.

So in a matter of hours, several people worked together to help an injured donkey. Acts of kindness like this don’t happen everywhere. But they happen on St. John and they happen often. It doesn’t matter if it is a person in need or an animal in need, you can guarantee that the people of St. John will work together to help. And that, my friends, is what makes this place so special.

Update: Thursday at 1:15 p.m.

We just got off the phone with Thomas Kelly from NPS. He told us that a biologist from NPS checked in on the donkey after our conversation yesterday. The biologist reported that the donkey was up and walking around and that he appeared to be suffering from old age more so than anything else. He used binoculars to inspect all four hooves and did not see any external injuries. So perhaps Scotty the donkey was simply looking for some quiet time…

Update: Thursday evening

Oriel Smith paid a visit to Scotty today also. Oriel helped Scotty out a bit and expects him to be back to his old self again really soon. 🙂

A picture of Scotty taken on Thursday afternoon - Image courtesy of Oriel Smith
A picture of Scotty taken on Thursday afternoon – Image courtesy of Oriel Smith

Friends of VI National Park Offers Guided Trip

marine biology sail

How many times have you been snorkeling around St. John’s many beautiful reefs and wondered to yourself what exactly you were looking at? I know I’m not alone in this. Well there’s a great opportunity happening this weekend for people like us.

Friends of Virgin Islands National Park are holding a guided marine biology sail this Sunday, March 23. Hop aboard Calypso and snorkel around St. John’s treasured reefs alongside Jeff Miller, a National Park Service marine biologist. Possible snorkel stops may include Waterlemon Cay, Congo, Lovango and Honeymoon Bay.

The trip will begin at the National Park Dock. Sign up in advance by visiting Friends of VINP Store in Mongoose Junction or by calling (340) 779-4940. Guests should bring their own lunch, snorkel gear, water, towel and sunscreen.

Question: What is your favorite or the coolest thing you’ve seen while snorkeling? Send us your pics at [email protected] and we’ll share them. 

St. John: The Wildest and Most Pristine of the USVI

caneel bay donkey st john usvi
caneel bay donkey st john usvi
Image credit: Amy Laughinghouse, For The Philadelphia Inquirer

This article just appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer. We liked it so much, we thought we would share it with all of you. We’re sure you’ll enjoy reading it just as much as we did.

St. John, the Virgin Island’ Wild Child

By Amy Laughinghouse, For The Philadelphia Inquirer

ST. JOHN, U.S. Virgin Islands – I’m lying face down in a spa cabana at Caneel Bay resort, gazing absently into a bowl of fragrant blossoms. The door is open just enough to admit the serenade of the surf and the softly filtered sunlight of the sultry Caribbean morning.

Cheryl, a masseuse with startling blue eyes accentuated by a deep tan, is gently working out the knots I’ve accumulated through work and travel. In less than an hour, she transforms me from a bag of aching bones to a blissed-out beach bunny ready to relax and take on – well, as little as possible during my 10-day stay on St. John.

This is arguably the wildest and most pristine of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and that legacy of feral beauty began right here, at Caneel Bay, where philanthropist and conservationist Laurance Rockefeller originally built a house as a private retreat. He grew so fond of St. John’s tangled jungle of hills and white crescent beaches that he bought up huge swaths of land, which later formed the basis of the Virgin Islands National Park.

At the resort itself, which features just 166 rooms on 170 acres, you’re more likely to encounter herds of deer and donkeys than another human. Throw in a few mongooses and leaf-munching iguanas, and it’s practically a free-range zoo.

While it’s tempting to simply remain at Caneel Bay and play castaway, this is an island that’s made for exploration, as I’ve discovered over more than a half-dozen visits these last 12 years.

Cruz Bay, the main port, hardly qualifies as the big city, with free-range hens shepherding their chicks along a zigzag maze of roads. But it offers enough shops and bars and restaurants to put a dent in your wallet and add an inch to your waistline.

Pick a perch at the Beach Bar, where you can gaze out over the sailboats that fill the harbor while sipping a Painkiller – a potent combination of rum, fruit juice, and nutmeg that will certainly leave you feeling no pain, until the inevitable hangover the next morning. Woody’s is another well-known watering hole, with a couple of plastic tables on the sidewalk (to call it a “terrace” would be overstating it) that provide front-row seats for first-rate tourist-watching. For a splurge, head to the hilltop Asolare and try an aptly named Honey Badger martini, which packs a bite worthy of its name.

Of course, St. John’s best attraction is its 30-plus beaches. These range from the “Mermaid’s Chair,” a beach barely big enough for two that my friends and I visit on a catamaran trip one afternoon, to the sugary expanse of Cinnamon Bay. The quirkiest is Drunk Bay, a remote rocky beach where visitors – perhaps fueled by fruity umbrella drinks, lending the place its name – create whimsical sculptures of mermaids, pirates, and cowboys from coral and coconuts.

As stunning as St. John’s coastline is above water, more surreal scenery lurks beneath the waves. Trunk Bay – which CNN.com recently ranked No. 48 on its list of the world’s 100 best beaches – features an underwater snorkel trail, where I spot eels, reef squid, and a stingray hovering like a spacecraft above the sandy bottom.

At Waterlemon Cay, while swimming in a spectral cloud of shiny silversides, I notice a 4-foot-long, missile-shaped fish just yards away. From my panicked reaction, anyone would have assumed I was an ill-fated extra from Jaws.

Fortunately, my friends, both experienced divers, assure me it’s only a harmless tarpon. (Well, harmless to humans, at least. The silversides it swallowed would probably beg to differ.)

Undeterred by echoes of “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” we sign up for a kayak tour (very small boats indeed) with Hidden Reef Eco-Tours. Our guide, Jennifer Russ, not only knows some of the best snorkeling spots around the island, but she’s also a bit of an expert on St. John’s flora and fauna as well.

“Oooh, that’s a Pseudosphinx caterpillar,” she coos, eyeing a plump yellow, black, and red critter suctioned to a piece of coral at Haulover Bay, where we meet. “He’s poisonous,” she notes cheerfully, pushing sunglasses atop a mass of long black curls.

Of course, this creepy-crawly sounds positively cuddly compared to the manchineel tree, which Russ points out next to her stand of kayaks. Eating the fruit can be fatal, earning it the nickname “Death Apple,” and its sap triggers terrible blisters.

Leaving caustic caterpillars and flesh-melting manchineels behind, we paddle for perhaps half an hour, slicing through blue waters before Russ directs us to beach the kayaks. As we slip into the water in masks, fins, and snorkels, a pair of butterfly fish engage in a courtly dance just below, and rainbow-colored parrot fish crunch loudly on the reef.

But the climax of our afternoon is the sea turtle that emerges like a shadow from the deep-blue fathoms. Gliding through the sea, he’s the Dalai Lama of the depths, the very essence of serenity.

I reckon he’s just had a massage.

Amy Laughinghouse is a London-based freelance travel writer. You can read more of her work at www.AmyLaughinghouse.com

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.