Ahhh. The US Virgin Islands: Verdant, steep-sided mountain islands fringed by pearl-white beaches. Waves lap at the shore, the steady trade winds rustle in the palm trees, and the smell of fresh sea air is laced with jasmine and frangipani.When light catches the surface of the sea just right, it looks like a field of diamonds nestled in a meadow of blue turquoise.
A sense of 'paradise found' must have overcome Laurance Rockefeller when his yacht first dropped anchor off St. John in the 1950s. In 1956, he bought more than half the island and donated some 5,000 acres to the federal government to help create a national park, and today over half of the island is included within it. The park now encompasses some 12,900 acres, which include most of the island's beaches, the remains of centuries-old sugar plantations, large tracts of undeveloped tropical forest, and some 5,650 acres of surrounding waters. Hassel Island, in a harbor on nearby St. Thomas, is also under the park's jurisdiction.
St. John, born of violent volcanic eruptions and uplifting some 60 million years ago, was molded into its present form by the gradual building of coral reefs. The coral reefs that fringe the island are also the secret to the picture-perfect beaches. Over centuries the slow methodical work of waves generated by the trade winds, and the ceaseless nibbling of coral-feeding fish reduced the once-living colonies of marine organisms into sand...white sand-sunglasses required! The marine environment of St. John offers divers and snorkelers a range of underwater experiences that can satisfy the timid as well as the adventurous.
The United States purchased the Virgin Islands from Denmark in 1917. The islands were managed by the U.S. Navy until 1931, at which time the Territory of the Virgin Islands was formed. Today the Territory is administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Territorial government of the Virgin Islands.