Skip to Content
Scenic photo of the shoreline of a coast, with sandy beaches and blue waters
Virgin Islands National Park
NPS Photo
Parent pages

Engaging St. John Residents as Cultural Ambassadors at Virgin Islands National Park

By Alison Steinbach

Virgin Islands National Park is a unique national park, encompassing two-thirds of the island of St. John. The park connects nature, culture, and history on the island, preserving important cultural heritage and natural resources and engaging visitors and residents alike with St. John’s many treasures.

With support from the National Park Foundation (NPF), the park and its official philanthropic partner, Friends of Virgin Islands National Park, hired four Virgin Islander young adults as ‘Island Ambassadors’ as part of a summer 2022 pilot program to offer young residents a platform to share their culture through park programs.

The four summer interns connected with hundreds of park visitors and students by leading younger visitors to learn about native plants, helping with ranger-led hikes, and working at the visitor center to design programming activities.

The ambassadors program provided much-needed staff capacity at the park, and at the same time, trained young St. John residents to be voices for their island and potentially return to work at the park in the future. For a park that tends to see many visitors from outside St. John and fewer locals, the program was a way to connect local young people and their communities to the park and foster a sense of pride and ownership in the park and their cultural heritage.

A group of people, all wearing matching t-shirts, stand on the side of a hill and hold plants
Island ambassadors leading a group removing invasive plants at Virgin Islands National Park (Friends of Virgin Islands National Park)
A group of children gather around the a dig site, accompanied by an adult wearing a baseball hat. They point at things and dig into the ground.
Ambassador teaches kids as part of the Island Ambassadors program (Friends of Virgin Islands National Park)

Grant funding also enabled the park to restart popular daily ranger-led hikes to Reef Bay, with ambassadors providing additional needed support for those visitor outings. The park had not been able to offer visitors that signature hike since the devastating hurricanes of 2017.

In total, the ambassadors helped support 100 events at the park, engaging around 500 participants, about half of whom were first-time visitors to Virgin Islands National Park. Given the success of the pilot program in engaging young residents and expanding staff capacity, Virgin Islands National Park hopes to be able to continue to offer Island Ambassador positions as paid internships.

NPF supported this project through its ParkVentures program, which engages historically excluded communities through outdoor recreation in national parks.

Related Programs