In Part 12 of this series, I related that in profiling some of her heroes in a new book, environmentalist Judith Towle independently validates Mabel Wagner’s dating of her husband Wladek’s encounters with certain people. For example, Ms. Wagner describes the thoughtfulness displayed by the first manager of Caneel Bay Resort on St. John after Laurance Rockefeller bought the land in June 1952. The manager purportedly provided ample supplies of paint and other materials with a boat he sent to Trellis Bay to be overhauled.

Ms. Towle names the manager as Euan P. McFarlane, who eventually moved to Virgin Gorda and pursued such dedication in his work with Joseph Reynold O’Neal for Mr. Rockefeller in establishing the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands that the VI government made him an honorary belonger. An Euan P. McFarlane Environmental Leadership Award is also made annually in his memory.


‘International park’

Ms. Towle reveals that there was initially some support in the 1960s for the innovative concept of an international park to include the entire St. John national park and at least Sage Mountain rainforest on Tortola and Devils Bay and Spring Bay on Virgin Gorda.

However, in the United States VI, Governor Ralph Paiewonsky’s interest in the proposal waned when he heard, falsely, that it might include national parks on St. Thomas, as he and his brother Isidor had donated most of Hassel Island for inclusion in the VI National Park.

I described in Part Six of this series (published on Nov 1, 2023) how the Paiewonsky family had welcomed a request from Mr. Wagner to dismantle a disused railway on their land as he came from Poland, which neighbours Ukraine, their ancestral homeland.

In late summer 1950, Mr. Wagner followed that up by removing the old wharf on Hassel Island for another landowner. In Part Seven of this series (published on Nov. 29, 2023) I recounted how the Trellis Bay shipyard used the engine from a broken-up car to cut timber from that old wharf into planks. In other words, Mr. Wagner showed the economic benefits of recycling long before its practice was widely accepted.


West Indies Federation

Enthusiasm for an international park also dissipated here in the VI, where the recent collapse of the West Indies Federation had heightened local awareness of the special nature of the NPT. Mr. Rockefeller was instrumental in creation of national parks here and in the USVI, but his legacy is not unalloyed in St. John.

Ms. Towle retells the controversial transformation of nearly two-thirds of St. John into a national park surrounding Caneel Bay Resort, which was destroyed by the 2017 hurricanes and remains in ruins pending the settlement of an ongoing dispute over the ownership of its land.


VI vs. USVI models

After analysing the reasons for the smoother success of the Little Dix Resort on Virgin Gorda and national parks in this territory, Ms. Towle concludes that the basic difference lies in the involvement of local people at every stage. In St. John, by contrast, Mr. Rockefeller and several other absentee landowners imposed the creation of St. John National Park on its local inhabitants as part of the nationwide National Parks Service.

Further information on the formation of the NPT can be found in an article in the 2013 edition of Business BVI magazine. Authored by Ms. Towle, Michael O’Neal and William Moody, the article is titled, “Joseph R. O’Neal and Laurance S. Rockefeller: Innovative Entrepreneurs”