It was like punching a ragged hole in the face of the Mona Lisa.
By the time two Category 5 hurricanes – Irma and then Maria – got done with St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands in September, one of the world’s most beautiful beaches was as devastated, defaced and destroyed as most of the rest of the island and much of the Eastern Caribbean.
Soon after, during a visit by RCL top brass to assess damage to one of the company’s major ports-of-call, it was decided that Magens Bay Park and its more than 500-yard long beach needed heavy work ranging from revitalization to complete restoration. RCL Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said get on it, and the company’s AVP of revenue management, Joshua Carroll, was the first of many to go the island and get to work.
Today, Fain and other top RCL officials, staffers who grabbed the project by its damaged face and healed it, as well as local dignitaries and other invited guests gathered at Magens Bay Park to unveil and dedicate the project.
“Our objective was very clear,” Carroll says. “We wanted to make the park there better than it was before the storm. I feel extraordinarily confident that we achieved the objective. The most rewarding component of the project is the local people of the island and their appreciation, not just for what was done or donated, but really their reaction to how it looks.”
The storms had shoved the white sand beach up to its former tree line, cut a three- to four-foot-shelf into it and uprooted some 80 percent of the mature trees there, mostly coconut palms and seagrapes. The entire shoreline there was thickly covered by heavy debris including the fallen trees. The large concession stand was rendered useless; restroom facilities were destroyed or heavily damaged.
It took buckets of ingenuity to pull off all of the work, particularly with communications mostly knocked out and local contractors tied up with other vital work. A Miami contractor who regularly works with RCL used his connections in St. Thomas to line up local specialists. Sometimes serendipity helped.
Carroll didn’t even know an arborist was needed to restore the beach’s tree line until he stopped for lunch one day, saw a local arborist’s truck parked there, and took the hint.
The entire beach was graded, refrigeration and grilling equipment was supplied for the concessionaire, all signage and seven lifeguard stands were replaced or repainted, and RCL bought and shipped in hundreds of mature trees filling nearly 20 shipping containers and got them planted – by far the most labor-intensive and complex of the tasks.
And a unique artwork was commissioned. Residents from all over St. Thomas were hired to collect colorful pieces of lumber from ruined structures and bring them to Magens Bay. There they were assembled into a memorial to the storms’ devastation and the people who rose above it.
“We just chipped away at it,” Carroll says of the restoration and revitalization.
Some few things need to be completed, but those who gathered for the dedication ceremony today did so on what is once again one of the world’s most iconic beaches.