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IT’S OFFICIAL: National Park Service To Again Allow Plastic Bottles At Park Sites Around The Territory, Country

CHRISTIANSTED — The federal government announced Wednesday it will eliminate a policy it put in place six years ago to allow national parks like the Buck Island National Monument on St. Croix to ban the sale of bottled water in an effort to curb litter.

The National Parks Service said in a statement it made the decision to “expand hydration options for recreationalists, hikers, and other visitors to national parks.”

The rules were first put in place in 2011 after it became clear discarded water bottles were becoming a big litter problem in national parks. The policy did not stop the sale of bottled sweetened drinks.

Officials say 23 of the 417 National Parks Service sites have implemented the policy since it was enacted. Those include some the nation’s most popular destinations like the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Mount Rushmore. The bottled water and beverage industry have previously lobbied aggressively to keep bottled water at U.S. national parks.

The Virgin Islands has five sites associated with the National Parks Service: Buck Island Reef National Monument on St. Croix; the Christiansted National Historic Site on St. Croix; the Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve on St. Croix; the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John and Hassel Island and the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument off St. John.

International Bottled Water Association spokeswoman Jill Culora praised the Park Service’s decision in a statement, calling the policy “seriously flawed” and noted it still allowed other less healthy beverages that are packaged in heavier types of containers.

The parks system has done studies that show plastic bottles are among the biggest source of pollution in places like the Grand Canyon. In a 2012 report, the Grand Canyon found large decreases in bottles found on trails, for example. The study also cited birds and other animals getting plastic chunks of bottle lodged in their throats.

The National Parks Service believes visitors can best choose the right beverages for themselves and their families when visiting the agency’s parks across the United States, spokesman Jeremy Barnum said.

“Specifically (parks like) Grand Canyon where there’s great options for bringing your own bottle — which is a pretty common phenomenon for a lot of folks, but not everyone shows up to a national park with their own water bottle — and so we’re just expanding those options for those folks,” Barnum said.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy has been reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands since 1989. He is originally from Detroit, Michigan.

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