Sunday, June 17, 2012

Randy Brown

Randy Brown
“We have to drive down that road?” We looked down the hill and the next question was “If we get down there, how will we ever get out?” My first visit to UVI’s biology field station on St. John, the Virgin Islands Environmental Resource Station (VIERS) in December 1993, was quite an adventure. Tricia Hopkins, Steve Kullen and I were representing Clean Islands International on an orientation tour of the Virgin Islands. We had visited St. Croix and St. Thomas (including both campuses of UVI) to meet with public and private environmental professionals to assist us in developing and presenting waste reduction workshops, which were funded by the USEPA. On St. Thomas and St. John, our guide was Tara Evans, an employee of the Public Works department who was also involved in developing recycling and environmental education efforts. She told us that if we were really going to visit St. John, we needed to go “out to” VIERS. Since she was not available, we were on our own.

We rented a little Jeep-like vehicle in Cruz Bay and drove out past Coral Bay, past Salt Pond, past the end of the paved road. The directions were “When you get to the end of paved road, keep going, go over the hill, then go about another mile.” We drove off the paved road and proceeded up a steep winding hill, so steep that we felt like we were driving straight into the sky. Then we reached the top and could see the other side. We stopped to take in the beauty of the very green valley and turquoise bay. Then we looked down a very steep and rough road which was mostly ruts and loose rocks. But while we were standing there evaluating the situation, a little beat-up Suzuki buzzed by, so we proceeded on.

Randy Brown at VIERS in 1997
After maneuvering pond-deep potholes, we finally found VIERS, nestled in the woods. The entire area was overgrown with very dense vegetation and the cabins were barely visible and were painted “National Park” brown. And there were a few people around. The cook told us that everyone was down at the beach and invited us back for lunch. After just a five minute walk to the beach at Little Lameshur Bay, we found two dozen teens in the water. They were a group of high school students from Alaska visiting VIERS for a week. They had made little boats from leaves and other natural things. We were invited to judge the boat races. Most failed to stay afloat, others failed to move, and most just fell over, but it was a lot of fun. And it captured the excitement of learning in the natural environment. At lunch we met the manager, who gave us an overview of VIERS’ history and what activities she was involved with in the community.

We really enjoyed our first visit to VIERS and even made it back over the hill. It was love at first sight for all three of us, and we are all still very much connected to VIERS today. It would have been hard to imagine on that day that in just four years, we would be in charge of VIERS’ stewardship. Now, almost 20 years later, Lameshur Bay remains just as we first witnessed it. And though there have been some changes, the VIERS staff continue to be as welcoming as on our first visit. And we still enjoy snorkeling in Lameshur Bay.

Randy Brown is Executive Director of Clean Islands International which has operated VIERS since 1977.

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