In 1956, Rockefeller purchased 5,000 acres from the Danish West Indies Company and gave it to the United States to initiate this preservation project, which celebrates its 45th anniversary in 2001. Within the park are many beautiful beaches, some of them among the most photographed in the Caribbean; it also has a bounty of wildlife, birds and marine life, and provides a clean nesting places for a variety of turtle species.
Throughout the island are the ruins of many sugar plantations, some of which have been preserved, such as the Annaberg Plantation, a National Park site that offers interpretive guides and brochures with background information. The restored plantation has an animal mill, wind mill, sugar factory and slave quarters on the property. Other interesting plantations include the Windberg Estate and the ruins of Frederikdal.
Within the park are two campgrounds for those wanting to truly bond with nature. One is Cinnamon Bay, a privately-own campground on one of the loveliest beaches. There are clever concrete cottages with cooking and bathing facilities, but nearby there's a restaurant and commissary. Most guests are fascinated with an unusual attraction here -- Cinnamon Bay has been designated as an archaeology dig for Taino Indian ruins. The dig is run by the National Park Service, encouraging volunteer participation.
The second, Maho Bay Campgrounds, was developed by New Yorker, Stanley Selengut, the man credited with conceptualizing the concept of eco-tourism. This site is a collection of 114 spacious (16 ft. X 16 ft.) tent-cottages built on wooden platforms which are scattered about on a hillside overlooking picturesque Maho Bay. One of the special aspects of a stay at Maho is its reknown meal service plan with breakfast and dinner equal to what you'll find in many five-star resorts. The tents are equipped with cooking facilities if you prefer doing it yourself, however.
St John has two other resorts, notorious throughout the Caribbean. One is Caneel Bay, one of the first, dating back to the days when tourism first developed here. The resort is built on the site of the plantation owned by Danish planter Peter Durloe, the architects have flawlessly preserved the ruins of this plantation, and incorporated them into the resort's overall plan which also includes seven beaches. The other upscale property is theWestin Resort (formerly Hyatt Regency St John) located near the main town of Cruz Bay.
Overall, St John has a small community feel and has managed to stay quaint in spite of controlled tourism development. At one end of the main town of Cruz Bay is the attractive shopping area called Mongoose Junction, built of local stone. Beautifully designed, the Junction includes upscale shops, art galleries and restaurants. The town has a variety of small restaurants, and a couple of inns like the popular Tamarind Court, one of the island's best accommodation values. It's located only three blocks from the main ferry pier.
The rest of the island has a variety of attractions. Coral Bay and Coral Harbor have several bars, restaurants and businesses, and offer fun activities such as water sports found at Coral Bay Watersports.
In the center of the island is the Bordeaux Mountain, more than 1,200-feet high from which one can see the British Virgin Islands. From the mountain you can also hike along the Reef Bay Trail for about two miles to the Reef Bay Estate Great House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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