Local and Kingdom heritage threatened
Sint Maarten is the only island within the Dutch Caribbean and one of the few in the wider Caribbean region that does not have a land-based protected area. Rapid and poorly planned development over the past four decades has resulted in the destruction of much of the island’s natural resources, except for a handful of remaining green areas such as the Emilio Wilson Estate in the Cul-de-Sac valley.
The Emilio Wilson Estate Foundation (EWEF) was established in 2005 to give voice and structure to the overwhelming outcry of opposition amongst the population to plans for the development of a gated residential area on the pristine and historic Emilio Wilson Estate. The Foundation is dedicated to the protection of the entire Emilio Wilson Estate and all associated man-made as well as natural monuments. Its goal is to turn the Estate into the "Emilio Wilson Estate Ecological and Historical Centre and Protected Area" much like Curacao’s Christoffel park, Aruba’s Parke Arikok and Puerto Rico’s many protected areas.
On September 20th 2005 the then Island Council of St. Maarten first approved an Island Resolution aimed at protecting the Emilio Wilson Estate, as a result of widespread public pressure to do so. From 2005 through 2008 Government implemented a number of basic measures towards the protection of the Estate, including placing the entire area on the monument list. The Estate is however still very much under threat of commercial and residential development.
In November of 2010 the EWEF was approached by Rain Forest Adventures a foreign company with plans for the development of the Estate into the "Golden Rock Park", a mass tourism amusement park for primarily (Cruise Ship) tourists, featuring zip-lining, chair-lifts to the top of the hill and rock climbing. Having followed the Rain Forests Adventure’s "Golden Rock Park Proposal" presentation and having reviewed the documentation provided at that time, the EWEF decided not to support the aforementioned proposal for the Emilio Wilson Estate based on the following;
The "Golden Rock Park Proposal" entails the large scale construction of infrastructure and facilities on the hillside, top, and ridges of Sentry Hill as well as the alteration of the natural rock formation at the top of the hill.
Aforementioned plans include permanent structures above the Sentry Hill’s 200 meter altitude line. St. Maarten’s Hillside Policy was drafted "to conserve the green hillsides, protect and if needed restore their natural value for the benefit of the environment, the tourist industry and quality of life on St. Maarten". The"Golden Rock Park Proposal" plans are in violation of the hillside policy which states that "no building should occur on hill tops, ridges, and above 200 meter altitude line". As is the case with many of the Hills in the Cul-de-Sac valley, the area above 200 meters is the most ecologically significant area of the Sentry Hill/ Emilio Wilson Estate. The proposed activities would have a permanent and undesirable impact on the Flora and (Avi-) Fauna of the area both during and after construction.
The proposed project does not provide for educational activities regarding the Emilio Wilson Estate’s history and its importance as a unique aspect of St. Maarten’s, the Dutch Kingdom’s and the Caribbean’s shared heritage.
The "Golden Rock Park Proposal" is focused on the commercial, mass exploitation of the Emilio Wilson Estate in the form of an amusement park with no noteworthy conservation initiatives and no regard for the cultural significance of the area and our ancestors who toiled on the Estate for generations during slavery.
Government has made commitments to the people of St. Maarten to protect the entire Emilio Wilson Estate which is now officially a recognized national monument. The Foundation is therefore surprised to have been informed that Minister Heyliger is supporting the Rain Forest Adventures "Golden Rock Park proposal" and that the plan is now being reviewed by relevant government departments.
It would set an unwanted precedent if Government were to even consider supporting the "Golden Rock Park proposal" on the Emilio Wilson Estate which has been formally established as a National Monument and is clearly a part of the people’s patrimony.
Some may wonder what the Emilio Wilson Estate Foundation has been doing to ensure protection of the Estate. Aside from repeatedly petitioning Government to take measures to protect the estate and even purchase it, the Foundation hired consultants to compile a business plan for the "Emilio Wilson Estate Ecological and Historical Centre" and has applied for financing to purchase the estate by a number of Dutch and International funding agencies over the past 6 years. While the cultural and ecological value of the estate for St. Maarten, the Kingdom and the Caribbean is undeniable, the aforementioned applications have all failed due to the absence of financial and legislative support from St. Maarten’s Government for the protection of the island’s heritage.
The Emilio Wilson Estate Foundation once again urges Government to pursue all possible legal and financial means necessary to realize its commitment to the people of St. Maarten to secure the Emilio Wilson Estate as the Island’s first land-based protected area and National Park.
Emilio Wilson Estate Foundation