The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on September 12, 1999 · Page 688
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September 12, 1999

A Publisher Extra Newspaper

The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 688

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West Palm Beach, Florida
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Sunday, September 12, 1999
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Page 688
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"x The U.S. Virgin Islands Where else but the Virgin Islands National Park would park rangers lead evening snorkel trips? St. John Coral Bay N S T . 1 I'1., -TM is. r til 4 By Cheryl Blackerby ST. JOHN, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS Philanthropist and conservationist Laurance Rockefeller first saw the island while cruising around the West Indies for six years after World War II. "St. John," he declared, "is the most beautiful island in the Caribbean." He bought 5,000 acres and gave them to Congress in 1956. They became the core for the Virgin Islands National Park, which covers about 70 percent of the 28-square-mile island. Rockefeller's luxury resort, Caneel Bay, now owned by Rosewood Hotels, is in the park. I stayed in a permanent tent at Cinnamon Bay Campground, also in the park but a lot cheaper. The park is tiny compared to others about 13,000 acres, as opposed to Yellowstone's more than 2.2 million but it has its own stunning attractions. Park boundaries extend offshore and include mangrove and seagrass beds, coral reefs, and a captivating community of sea life turtles, sea cucumbers, batfish, spotted eagle rays and parrotfish. Where else would park rangers lead evening snorkel trips? At night, the corals feed, 4- f the octopuses are on patrol, and you can see shrimp eyes watching you, reflecting light like cat eyes in the dark. But the attractions are not limited to water. The forested mountains, which soar above some of the most gorgeous white beaches in the Caribbean, are covered with more than 800 species of plants. Twenty-two miles of mountain trails, for casual walkers and serious hikers, wind through West Indian locusts, blooming with fragrant white flowers, and majestic kapoks. Hikers on Reef Bay Trail will see the ruins of an abandoned plantation and rock carvings from the island's pre Columbian period. My tent near a beach had a wood floor, canvas walls and ceiling, cots and a nearby communal shower that is ice-cold even in the summer. Also in the park is the private Maho Bay Camp, which has permanent tents built on stilts on a hillside and connected by wooden walkways. The tents are popular with honeymooners. The main reason for a visit here is nature and exploring the forests. There are no poisonous snakes on the island in fact, the only kind of snake is the blind ground snake, about as big as an earthworm and no ticks. Unlike the Everglades National Park. OUTSIDE INN: Luxury tents (right) at Maho Bay Camp; about 300 descendants of donkeys brought here in the 1800s roam the island (below). -. Exotic species Walking the beaches of the Virgin Islands National Park, you never know who you might run into. John Travolta, Alan Alda and Mel Brooks have been spotted here. And Jon Bon Jovi has a house on the park boundary. St. John has some of the world's most famous sand, including Trunk Bay in the national park, which has an underwater snorkel trail. Cinnamon Bay beach is home to the park's campground. Campgrounds: Cinnamon Bay Campground (800-539-9998; tents start at $52): Stay in roomy permanent tents with wooden floors and canvas sides. Maho Bay Camp (800-392-9004; tents start at $70) has a restaurant and grocery store. Luxury, please: Those looking for posher surroundings will like Rockefeller's resort, Caneel Bay (800-928-8889; summer rates start at $250), now owned by Rosewood Hotels. 1 :r- Photos by Cheryl Blackerby Page 15

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