Local alternative for Rain Forest

POSTED: 02/5/15 8:31 PM

St. Maarten – He wrote a comprehensive plan for the sustainable development of the Emilio Wilson estate and brought it to the attention of former Vromi-Minister Maurice Lake, the former Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams and the former Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs Ted Richardson. But nobody wanted to listen, or act upon his proposal.

Now agriculturist Joslyn Richardson is taking another shot at bringing his plan to fruition. This time, he sent it to Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs and Tourism and Economic Affairs Minister Claret Connor. Has he heard anything? “Nothing,” he says.

Richardson figures that his plan would do justice to the cultural and historical value of the estate and that it would nevertheless attract 300,000 visitors per year, good for annual revenue in the region of $12 million.

Richardson also spoke about his plan with Governor Drs. Eugène Holiday, who spent a pleasant two hours with him at the base camp on the hill of Hillside Adventures.

The question is of course, how much would it cost to execute Richardson’s plan? The agriculturist remains unfazed: “Maybe $8 million. But what is that compared to the expected revenue?”

Richardson wrote the plan last year and he has been looking at other properties for its development as well, but in its present form it fits the Emilio Wilson Estate like a glove.

“Minister Lake said to me last year that he does not have the capacity to come up with such brilliant ideas,” he says. “He thought the project could offer employment to one thousand young people. I’m thinking 500, but a thousand is also possible.”

Compared to the Rain Forest Adventures project, Richardson expects much higher revenue from his plan. “Rain Forest says it will generate revenue from taxes for the government. That is chump change. My plan will benefit the community much better.”

While Richardson is enthusiast about his plan, politicians have come close to rolling their eyes. “For some reason, they don’t want to hear about it,” Richardson says. “When I tell them about it, most of them just look up in the air. So far I have not received a reaction from anybody. It is as if they think that we cannot come up with valuable plans ourselves and that they have to come from outsiders. We can do this.”

Richardson wrote the plan as an initiative of the Elwaldo Richardson Memorial Agricultural Foundation. The project plan divides the 90 available acres in nine sections, each with their own characteristic. Fruit trees (20 acres) and vegetable production (25 acres) take up together half of the space. Animal husbandry (15 acres) and the zoo (3 acres) also have a place in this development. Furthermore Richardson envisions a museum (5 acres), a culture and arts gallery (2 acres), a botanical and herbal garden (3 acres), a tropical rain forest (5 acres) and a center for the performing arts (2 acres).

The project will be the plan states, “the largest cultural manifestation on the island. With the right branding and promotion it is possible to direct 25 to 30 percent of our annual visitors to this park.”

The effect Richardson expects from the plan is employment for the youth and lower imports due to the production of fruit and vegetables. The park would highlight the island’s historical and cultural heritage and provide a much better location for the zoo. Crime will decrease because the park offers opportunities for the youth, the plan states.

Furthermore, Richardson sees possibilities for scholarships for students who want to study in the fields of agriculture or the arts.

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