Crucians camp out for Easter weekend


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ST. CROIX - Almost 60 years ago, before Delores Hansen had even thought about having children, she and a few friends decided to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the routine way of life and relax on the beach for just a few days.

Little did they know at that time, that what was just some good old fun would grow into a annual tradition that has spanned generations.

That tradition continued Thursday, as hundreds of families began flocking to St. Croix's beaches to settle in for the extended Easter weekend.

Tents were scattered across beaches from as far east as Cramer Park and Chenay Bay to Rainbow Beach and Target Wall Beach in Frederiksted and from Salt River and Cane Bay on the northside to Great Pond on the south shore. At all the beach campgrounds, the aroma of fried fish, seafood soup, johnny cakes and grilled meats wafted through the air along the coastline.

As she has done every year since they first started, Hansen and her family set up camp Thursday on the eastern side of Cramer Park and said Easter has become one of the most anticipated times of the year for her family, primarily because of the joys associated with camping.

"When we first came out here, we were young. We used to party a lot, and we decided one time to just pack up and come on the beach," she said. "It was nothing like this. We were camping real rough, and what we thought was going to be a day or two, turned into two weeks."

She said members of several Crucian families from Christiansted and Frederiksted enjoyed the camping, but later on Frederiksted beaches also became popular with those who lived closer.

Many of her friends camped out by sleeping in their cars or in giant refrigerator boxes or just under the open night sky, Hansen said.

As the years passed, the campers started creating shelters with tarpaulins and finally have evolved to pitching a number of multi-room tents that protect them from the elements, she said.

"Things really have changed, nothing like what it used to be, but it is still lots of fun for everyone," Hansen said.

Hansen's 15-year-old grandson, Akil Emanuel, was tending to a large pot of chicken legs on a grill as they talked about how times have changed.

"I've been camping even before I know myself. I think I was born camping," Akil said, with a chuckle. "We don't ever plan anything big, but it always turns out to be something big, with all our family and friends."

Akil said he most enjoys cooking and eating at the campsite, and then during the evening hours, he gathers with others and enjoy games of dominoes and lots of storytelling.

Hansen threw her head back and smiled as she continued to travel down memory lane.

"I remember, we used to take the old mobile tires and light them on fire to create light for us to see," she said. "We used to have music and tell stories. We didn't need much to keep ourselves entertained."

Hansen laughed as she pointed out the modern amenities associated with Easter camping on St. Croix's beaches today.

"These young people don't know about the real camping. They need all kinds of things to be comfortable," she said.

It's not uncommon to find large deep freezers, refrigerators, grills and stoves, mattresses, televisions and DVD players, videogame consoles, electric fans, microwaves and other electric appliances at the various campsites on the beaches as families turn the beach front into their home for more than a week.

Many of the annual campers set up their tents as early as two weeks ago to guarantee themselves a prime spot on the beach and ensure the most comfort as they reunite with family, catch up with friends and give children a chance to bond through games, storytelling and feasting.

It has been more than 23 years since Stephanie Brinkley and her family circle and friends have enjoyed the beachfront for Easter.

"This is all we need for Easter camping. We have the cool breeze that blows nonstop, the sea water for recreation and opportunities to make memories that will last through generations," she said.

Brinkley said her children and grandchildren have been able to bond through games, and she sees the Easter camping as an annual time of rejuvenation.

"Camping is not for everyone, but those who don't are missing out on this quality family time," she said. "You learn to work together and have fun together in a different environment, while taking time to be thankful for the natural beauty around."

Since Sunday, Louisa Saldana and her family set up more than six tents on the western side of Salt River Bay, just behind where the Belardo family has been camping for more than 40 years.

"This is only my second time camping out, and this year, for some reason, it feels so much more relaxing," she said. "I think everybody gets to relax, and we tend to laugh more when we are on the beach."

Saldana said her children and their children may turn the event into a new family tradition for themselves.

"They stay all day on the beach, just having a great time, and we cook and enjoy each other," she said.

Saldana said leaving the comfort of her home for a week is a sacrifice, but she does it because the children all enjoy it and have a great time together.

Many families across the island will be packing up on Easter Monday, and some of the campers said the biggest days for the season are Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Positive Works Inc. is hosting a 10 a.m. Easter Sunday service at Cramer Park as part of its week of activities that also includes fishing, hiking, exercise and lots of sports.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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