Little Dix Bay Resort on Virgin Gorda in 1964
"I am honored and grateful to have been awarded the designation of Belonger by The Government of the British Virgin Islands. For more than four decades, I have been privileged to have worked with the citizens of the BVI in the fields of conservation and economic growth through environmentally- oriented resort development," said Mr. Rockefeller. "The British Virgin Islands continue to be of great interest to me. To be designated a citizen is truly a great honor."
In honoring Mr. Rockefeller, Chief Minister Smith said, "It would be impossible to chronicle the very significant and lasting impact you have made on the lives of generations of BVIslanders whom your generous spirit has touched. Your contributions have done so much to improve the standard of living generally in the BVI. This country will forever recognize your contributions and indeed, residents and visitors alike continue to benefit from them. We are, therefore, honored to count you among the Belongers of the British Virgin Islands."
Mr. Rockefeller's involvement with the BVI's conservation movement dates to the very early 1960's when planning began for the Territory's National Parks ordinance. That ordinance established the BVI National Parks Trust in 1961, now the oldest of its kind in the Lesser Antilles. According to local BVI sources, Jose R. O'Neal, a prominent BVIslander, and Mr. Rockefeller were the principle protagonists behind this unique and forward-looking initiative by the BVI Government.
Mr. Rockefeller's involvement in the British Virgin Islands' tourism industry began on the island of Virgin Gorda in the early 1960's when he was pioneering a new concept in the resort hotel industry under the Rockresorts' banner, linking the principles of conservation and the beauty of natural surroundings with resort accommodations and activities. During that period, Mr. Rockefeller built Little Dix Bay Resort on Virgin Gorda. With its signature architecture and unique accommodations, Little Dix became a flagship property of Rockresorts and, shortly after opening on January 18, 1964, hosted Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Four decades after its creation, Little Dix Bay remains a global icon in the luxury resort industry. In 1971, Mr. Rockefeller was appointed Commander (Honorary) of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in recognition of his contributions to the economic development of the British Virgin Islands and his conservation of park lands on Virgin Gorda and Tortola.
Peter Jennings, a frequent visitor to the BVI and a Governor of the Trustees of the BVI National Parks Trust, USA, commented, "It is a wonderful thing the BVI is doing to recognize Laurance's commitment to conservation in the Territory. He epitomizes Belonger status in that he has defended the Territory, invested in it, been part of it and enjoyed it to the fullest. His contribution in the 1960's to the tourism industry and his long-term awareness that over-development would do more harm than good has been an inspiration to islanders and visitors alike. "
Walter and Betsy Cronkite, who were not able to attend the ceremony, sent their congratulations to Mr. Rockefeller through Peter Jennings. In a short statement read by Peter, Mr. and Mrs. Cronkite said, "Other than God's blessing in the creation of the Islands of the Sir Francis Drake Channel and their environs, you have been their greatest benefactor. You have invested your devotion to the environment in the development of your resort and set the tone that has opened the tourist industry while preserving the area's natural beauty. The people of the BVI and all of your admirers are grateful for your sensitive leadership. Congratulations on this very special occasion and please accept our affectionate greetings."
For the people of Virgin Gorda, Mr. Rockefeller's involvement on the island left a particularly positive imprint. The development of Little Dix in the 1960's created steady employment at a time when there were limited economic opportunities on the island. Mr. Rockefeller's property placed Virgin Gorda and the BVI on the global tourism map, making it world renowned as a magnet for upscale tourists. This, in turn, drew other prominent global investors to create boutique properties in a similar genre that were and remain today relatively unobtrusive to the environment.
Mr. Rockefeller's concept of an extremely well-landscaped resort, combined with an institutionalized land protection strategy in the form of the BVI National Parks Trust, set in motion in the BVI a high-quality and focused tourism development strategy that continues to this day. Nature's Little Secrets, the current, aptly applied campaign used to market the BVI around the world, can be seen as a direct outgrowth of these early planning and conservation initiatives executed more than four decades ago.
Mr. Rockefeller sought other ways to assist the British Virgin Islands. In the BVI, he acquired and then donated selected landscape elements for protection by the newly created BVI National Parks Trust. Between 1964 and 1974, the Trust received gifts from Mr. Rockefeller of fifty-five acres and twenty acres respectively at Spring Bay and Devil's Bay on Virgin Gorda; eighty-six acres on the top of Sage Mountain, the highest peak on Tortola; forty-eight acres comprising Fallen Jerusalem; and twenty-four acres comprising West Dog Island. Both Fallen Jerusalem and West Dog Island remain in their original, natural state.
Less visible forms of Mr. Rockefeller's support in the cause of conservation have included scholarship funds for selected BVI students pursuing environmental studies, planning money for Virgin Gorda's community- based resource assessment and development guidelines on the North Sound, and funding for planting a small forest of mahogany trees on Sage Mountain.
Lastly, Mr. Rockefeller has for decades contributed to the happiness of thousands of yachtsmen who have had the pleasure of visiting, by open invitation, his privately-owned and maintained island of Sandy Cay with its nature trail and carefully maintained tropical wilderness landscape and palm-backed beaches. Sandy Cay is the oldest, privately owned, but open-to-the-public marine "wilderness park" in the Caribbean.
In addition to the previous gifts of land he bequeathed to the British Virgin Islands, last August Mr. Rockefeller announced funding for a $200,000 conservation program in the British Virgin Islands that is designed specifically to help strengthen management for parks and protected areas in the BVI. The program is linked to Mr. Rockefeller's final decision-making about the future management of Sandy Cay, located between Tortola and Jost van Dyke, which has been owned by him personally for more than three decades.
To help with the Sandy Cay conservation program, Mr. Rockefeller has called on the Island Resources Foundation, a non-government conservation leader in the Caribbean since 1972, that has received significant funding from Laurance S. Rockefeller for over three decades. From its Tortola-based research and library facility, made available by the BVI's H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, the Foundation will serve as the coordinating agency for the Rockefeller-funded program to be implemented collaboratively with the BVI National Parks Trust and the Community College's Applied Marine Studies Center on Tortola.
Catherine van Kampen, Esq.
British Virgin Islands PressOffice [email protected]
|Also See:||Rosewood Hotels & Resorts and Maritz Wolff & Co., Joint Venture Takes Ownership of Little Dix Bay / Aug 1998|
|Olympus Hospitality Group Breathing New Life into a Legendary Name in the World of International Resorts; Rockresorts / Mar 2000|
|David W. Flack Named Managing Director of Little Dix Bay in the British Virgin Islands / Oct 2002|