Idyllic white-sand beaches and crystal clear seas draw many visitors to Virgin Islands National Park each year – and what waits underwater is just as breathtaking. The park includes 5,650 acres of land beneath the ocean, including fragile coral gardens, beautiful seascapes, and resplendent ocean life. Trunk Bay is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and has the only underwater snorkeling trail in the United States.
But this park represents much more than lovely beaches; it also has a complex history of enslavement and revolt. The Danish took possession of St. John in 1694, lured by the potential of a sugar cane industry. In time, more than 100 sugar cane plantations covered the island, and the entire system functioned on slave labor from Africa. In 1733, the slaves revolted, but the resistance was eventually suppressed by the French and the system of slave labor continued on until 1848. Today, visitors can see the ruins of hundreds of structures from this plantation era throughout the park – ruins that include windmills, animal mills, factories, great houses, terrace walls, and warehouses. In addition, there are thousands of house sites of the enslaved workers and their graveyards that pay homage to the struggle of these people.
A popular attraction for millions of visitors each year, both Virgin Islands National Park and Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument are at risk from development on privately-owned land within and adjacent to park boundaries. According to an assessment by NPCA's Center for State of the Parks, published in May 2008, chronic funding and staffing shortfalls have limited the National Park Service's ability to protect the parks' historic structures and marine ecosystems.