Grant opens Hassel Island to students
Published: October 18, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - About 30 students from the Julius E. Sprauve School on St. John hiked around Hassel Island with a V.I. National Park ranger Wednesday, the first group in a grant-funded program to get students out and into the nation's parks.
The National Park Foundation - a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the country's national parks - awarded the V.I. National Park an $8,000 grant under its Ticket to Ride program.
Friends of Virgin Islands National Park are giving another $8,000 to match the foundation's contribution through their School Kids in the Park program.
The grant provides transport for as many as 500 eighth- and ninth-graders to Hassel Island, where they will hike the newly opened Active Trails. Hassel Islands boasts a number of maritime and historical sites, which are unfamiliar to many Virgin Islands students because of the island's inaccessibility from land.
Laurel Brannick, education specialist at the V.I. National Park, is heading the program and leading the guided hikes on Hassel Island.
The first trip went really well, and she hopes more schools sign up soon, she said. The grant money must be used up by December, or it will be returned to the foundation. So far, she only has about 150 students signed up from about four different schools.
The St. Thomas Historic Trust is supplying brochures and trained tour guides for the student trips; Capt. Alan Wentworth of Sea Tow is offering a reduced rate to ferry the students over to Hassel Island; and the St. Thomas Taxi Association is giving discounted fares to get the students from their schools to Frenchtown Marina.
Brannick said the trail the students took Wednesday visits the Creque Marine Railway; a former leper sanctuary named the Leprosarium; Shipley's Battery; the Hassel family cemetery; and officers' barracks, and it ends in Careening Cove.
The three-hour excursion is a strenuous hike, and students bring lots of water and a bag lunch.
"The transportation's covered, they just have to bring their water and their lunch and be ready to go," Brannick said.
Brannick will visit the classrooms that sign up for the trip ahead of time to give a safety talk and show a 15 minute DVD made by the St. Thomas Historical Trust about Hassel Island.
"When you step on the island, you really do feel like you're stepping back in time," she said.
The total $230,000 Ticket to Ride grant connects 30,000 students with national parks across the country. About 40 parks, including the V.I. National Park, were awarded a piece of the grant.
"We're proud that this partnership will create a new opportunity for Virgin Islands youth to experience and learn from Hassel Island's rich cultural and natural resources," Friends of Virgin Islands National Park President Joe Kessler said. "This unique island within the park was previously under-utilized but is now open to discovery for future generations."
For more information about the program, contact Brannick at 776-6201 ext. 257 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email email@example.com.