The Virgin Islands Trail Alliance has been slowly working with multiple community leaders and organizations developing its reputation, sharing its vision and gaining support. Collaboration takes time and commitment. Through this work VITAL has been selected to receive technical support from the National Park Service, River, Trails and Conservation Community Assistance Program (NPS, RTCA). Prior to the two class V hurricanes that struck the Territory in Sept. 2017, VITAL with community partners identified the need for pedestrian supported infrastructure in the territory and began to work together to improve walkability and connectivity. The Dept. of Health with the CDC completed a walkability study in 2016 that further supported the need. The AAPR of the Virgin Islands joined the initiative to advance their focus of improving transportation for all age groups. Multiple community partners are supporting connectivity via Pathways, Trails and Parks as it relates to tourism, the economy, preparing for disasters, Forestry, NPS and Arts, Culture, Heritage and education.
VITAL has developed a plan to work with the community, organizations and leaders to create a multi-modal pathway system around St. Croix. This plan divides the Island into workable segments. Each segment has unique needs and building options as well as various locations of daily living and special places that need to be explored further. A draft blueprint is being prepared by the NPS, RTCA. Over the next few months VITAL along with its partners will provide information in a media campaign regarding; pathways, bike paths, sidewalks and ADA needs. This campaign will ensure that the people are a part of the process and develop a good understanding of how their lives and the lives of future generations can be improved with long term planning and collaborative initiatives. At the same time VITAL has set up a team to work with the NPS, RTCA to work on an in-depth evaluation of each segment to determine the needs, barriers and ways to solve identified obstacles. This will require innovative thinking using advanced technologies, maintenance-free materials and building systems, with resiliency and efficiency in mind, as well as being cost effective and inclusive. The best practices for smart growth and climate change will be considered. On-site visits will be scheduled to ensure perceived needs are accurate. In March 2019 the NPS technical team will travel to St. Croix to meet with the steering committee for planning of new pathway segments. This is important work and it will take time to address resident concerns, to create the best possible pathways, connecting the most people and services as well as recreational and historical locations.
VITAL along with the Walkability Island Teams submitted the concept plans to the Task Force to consider this project and the impact it will have in each sector when built. The Health Sector will see improvements in chronic disease outcomes and healthy living practices that reduce cost of healthcare services. Family services will see decreased stress levels in the population with new ways to expend energy and to connect with health care, education, recreation and activities of daily living. Unemployment offices will have less joblessness as new job opportunities are created through construction and new entrepreneurial opportunities emerge for guides and support industry bike and apparel shops, food options etc. Less money spent on transportation will increase options for low income families and stimulate active lifestyles. The education sector will see children walking and riding bikes to school increasing attention span during classroom time and reducing stress on existing infrastructure services and bus transport. School physical education departments can use the multi-modal pathways near their schools for safe running and exercise options during the school day. Tourism Sector will see a new mode of transportation that will stimulate active eco-tourism adventures. New types of tourists will visit the Island. Those wanting a slower more intimate visit stimulating the Air B&B industry, walking, biking, hiking family-oriented visitor. When people stay longer and more frequently this will promote local business opportunities. With increased walkability scores for neighborhoods, property values, sales and rentals will increase. Pathways promote a more youthful lifestyle, attracting young families and individuals to return bringing, their skills and education with them.
The Task Force was tasked with a huge responsibility of deciding the needs of the people. VITAL understands that there is great immediate need that requires attention, but we urged members to consider the need for a new pedestrian supported transportation system for the future. Through this collaborative effort pedestrian infrastructure was included in the final Task Force Report to the Governor. Improved infrastructure that support walking/biking has been in the dreams of many who make the territories their home and it is in the dreams of the next generation as well. Once homes are built and roads are repaired, and the power is stabilized this need will continue to exist. If we plan now we can meet the needs of the next generation. Your support for this project will support all people of the territory regardless of their age or ability, each day of their lives.