“SCA provided me with my first big job adventure,” Sarah Dylla said of her internship at Virgin Islands National Park. The ad might have read: Virgin Islands National Park seeks a cultural landscape planner for historic site in ruinous state on deserted island in former commercial hub of West Indies. Must be OK with mosquitoes [lots!] indoor camping [electricity spotty], rats roaches, lizards. But, also, white sand beaches, amazing barbecue, wonderful people.
“When I saw the position description on the SCA website, I knew it was for me. It spoke to me! I was very interested in the challenge of preserving cultural heritage for future generations. I called Mark Hardgrove, the VIIS Superintendent, and forced him to hire me,” Sarah said.
Mark apparently didn't need much convincing. “Within two weeks of asking SCA to help us find an intern, we had a list of impressive applicants, but when we saw Sarah’s qualifications, there was no question. She was it.”
Right out of college with a degree in art and architectural history, Sarah was to work with an interdisciplinary team of local planners, high school teachers, the St. Thomas Historic Trust, and park professionals to develop a draft cultural landscape plan for Hassel Island in St. Thomas harbor. Sarah’s specific assignment was to determine the site’s period of significance; inventory the elements that were still on the landscape; determine how best to interpret the history and artifacts of the site to visitors; create a plan, and gather public input before submitting it to the National Park Service for funding and implementation. She had six months.
For extra credit, she was to develop a trails plan for the island.
Acquired by the Park Service in 1978 and left untouched until now, the site was in a “severe state of ruin” according to Hardgrove. Immediate work was needed to stabilize crumbling and collapsing historic structures to make it safe for visitation.
While the site has been occupied for thousands of years, it was determined that its heyday had been the mid-19 century when prevailing trade winds brought sailing ships directly to the West Indies and St Thomas harbor, known as the best shelter in the Caribbean. When the Royal Mail Steam Packet located its West Indies hub there, Hassel Island became a bustling trade center. It was the age of steam. Coal to power the huge ships arrived via sailing vessels, slower but cheaper, and was carried onto steamships by local women.
One of the significant historical elements on Hassel Island, the Creque Marine Railway, had been used to hoist ships as big as 700 tons out of the water for repairs. The marine railway was in operation right up into the mid-60s and its huge Boulton steam engine is the only one of its kind known to still exist.
Sarah recently presented the draft plan at a public meeting where it was extremely well received. “Everyone melted after she spoke,” Hardgrove said. “She convinced them to preserve the site in its 19th century state rather than cover it with palm trees.”
Superintendent Hardgrove had very kind works for Sarah and SCA. “She was awesome. Every time we have used the SCA, it gets better and better. It is one of the solutions to many of our problems. Not just for the quality of the interns, which is fantastic, but for the return on our investment. We get great value. The interns are very project oriented. ”
The plan will be submitted to the Park Service soon with 2013 as the target date for opening the Hassel Island National Historic Site [confirm exact name] to the public. Exhibits are to be constructed based on Sarah’s 3D mockups. And, yes, she did manage to do the trails plan as well.
As for Sarah's next adventure, she’s headed to a job with the University of Virginia as a digital humanities specialist. Her dream -- work for the Park Service again someday.
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