Virgin Islands National Park
History of the National Park
The concept of a National Park dates back to the early days of American expansion into the western territories of the U.S. With this expansion came the devastation of the once pristine environment as well as the virtual annihilation of the Native Americans who for thousands of years had lived in harmony with that environment.
As early as 1832, a well known American artist and author, George Gatlin, called for the creation of national parks in order to preserve the natural beauty of the American wilderness as well as the culture and way of life of the native people.
In 1870 the United States government sent a survey team, led by Nathaniel P. Langford into the remote and almost inaccessible area now known as Yellowstone. The adventurers on that team were overwhelmed by the awesome beauty of the region. Sitting around the campfire one night they discussed the possible future of the territory. What would be the result of opening up this previously hidden land to the excesses of American expansion?
One of the team members, Cornelius Hedges, who later became the governor of the Montana Territory, suggested the possibility of having the federal government protect the area by making it a National Park.
Langford loved the idea. Upon their return to civilization Langford and Hedges began a campaign to win support for their plan. Their efforts were rewarded with a favorable response from the nation's capitol. The government agreed to send the eminent geologist, Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, to Yellowstone where he would assess the feasibility of the project and report his findings to Congress.
The magnificent landscape won over Hayden's heart and he returned an enthusiastic and ardent supporter for the creation of a National Park.
Hayden was just the person for the job. He understood the fine art of public relations and knew that in order to accomplish his goal he would need more than scientific reports and flowery descriptions. Unable to bring Congress to Yellowstone, Hayden decided to bring Yellowstone to Congress.
Hayden's idea was to find an artist who could convey the magnificent beauty of the area via paintings, drawing and sketches. His search for an artist led him to the Northern Pacific Railroad financier, Jay Cooke. Cooke recommended Thomas Moran, whose work he had admired in a magazine called, Scribners.
The magazine and Cooke, offered to finance the cost of bringing Moran to Yellowstone, Hayden agreed and Moran joined the following expedition.
Upon his return to civilization and after months of hard work, Moran produced the seven by eleven foot, "Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone." Meanwhile, Hayden armed with photographs of the expedition and Moran's field sketches, he visited as many legislators as he possible could and promoted his dream.
On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill, approved by both houses of congress, creating the first National Park in the world. Today, there are nearly 4,000 National Parks, National Forests, and protected areas worldwide.
The United States of America purchased the Danish West Indies, now called the United States Virgin Islands, from Denmark in 1917. Right from the beginning of American ownership of the islands there was talk in official circles of creating a national park in the area. In 1936 the National Park Service, recognizing St. John's immense beauty, historical significance and potential for recreational development, conducted an official appraisal of the island.
In spite of these factors the conclusion was that St. John did not qualify for park status. The reasons for the decision were that the island was no longer in its natural state after so many years of intense sugar cane cultivation, and that St. John was not in need of national park protection as there was no pressure towards commercial development at that time.
In 1939 the National Park Service made a second assessment of St. John. This time the conclusion was to make the entire island a national park. However, with United States attention focused on the coming Second World War, the St. John National Park proposal faded into obscurity.
In the early 1950s, St. John experienced a spurt in tourism and related commercial development. The National Park Service renewed their interest in establishing a park in St. John.
Also in the early 1950s, Laurance Rockefeller, along with the Rockefeller family and associates founded the Jackson Hole Preserve Corporation, a non profit conservation and educational organization. He acquired more than 5,000 acres of land on St. John which were eventually donated to the Federal government.
On August 2, 1956 President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Public Law 925 establishing the Virgin Islands National Park in "a portion of the Virgin Islands of the United States containing outstanding scenic and other features of national significance". On December 1, 1956 the Virgin Islands National Park was dedicated and became the 29th National Park in the United States as "a sanctuary wherein natural beauty, wildlife, and historic objects will be conserved unimpaired for the enjoyment of the people and generations yet unborn".