Eco-friendly stays on the USVI's fourth island

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Kaya Cottage at Virgin Islands Campground on Water Island.
Kaya Cottage at Virgin Islands Campground on Water Island. Photo Credit: Virgin Islands Campground

Half a mile across the Charlotte Amalie waterfront in St. Thomas lies Water Island,  the smallest and youngest of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The three better-known Virgins -- St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix -- were purchased by the U.S. from Denmark in 1917, but Water Island was not bought until 1944, when it was acquired for $10,000 to protect the U.S. submarine base on St. Thomas during World War II.

Water Island was turned over to the Department of the Interior in 1950 and leased out, primarily to residential tenants.

It officially became the fourth U.S. Virgin Island on Dec. 12, 1996, when control was passed to the territorial government for $25,000, the same amount the federal government had paid for the three larger islands in 1917.

The 490-acre island is worth exploring. It's full of surprises for travelers who might want to experience another side of the USVI.

The 20-minute, $20 roundtrip ferry that runs hourly from the Crown Bay terminal on St. Thomas docks at Phillips Landing on the little island, which is home to a population of 200; a welcome center that doubles as a post office and library; several private homes and villa; as well as Honeymoon Beach on Druif Bay on Water Island's west end.

Attractions include snorkeling and hiking. Dinghy's Beach Bar and Grill on Honeymoon Beach has beach chairs, outdoor tables, food, drink and entertainment.

Tented stays on Water Island

For travelers who want to extend their stay, Water island also is home to the Virgin Islands Campground, an eco-sensitive, glamping-style property with eight self-contained cottages and a suite with a panoramic view.

The campground was recently purchased by Jason Reynolds, an avid backpacker and diver, his wife Coral and son Brett who plan to use their collective skills and backgrounds "to elevate the experience of campers while always keeping an eye towards conservation and sustainability," Reynolds said, adding that "being green doesn't mean we give up comfort and cleanliness."

The campground continues to operate with Dick and Dawn Gogin on property as the friendly camp hosts.

Eight wood-frame, waterproof tent-cottages are nestled among bougainvillea and cooling trade winds and offer several of the basic amenities of a hotel room -- electricity, comfortable beds and clean linens -- with the close-to-nature feel of camping, complete with views of ocean and sunrises to the east, according to Reynolds.

Most also include a balcony, WiFi, lounge area, room safe, sofa bed and a king or two single beds.

There is a bathhouse with two showers and two toilets shared among the eight cottages, Reynolds said, and the suite has a private bathroom. In keeping with the desire to be low impact, the sinks and showers use captured rainwater and are heated by solar energy. Toilet use gray water systems. 

Guests also share a communal, open-air kitchen pavilion with designated refrigerator space and cooking utensils, dishes and flatware for each cottage. A grill, two gas burners, microwave, toaster and pots and pans are shared by all - as is the kitchen's ocean views.

Supplies and groceries can be purchased on St. Thomas or from vendors on the island, who accept cash only.

Reynolds said he'd like to work with travel advisors; the campground also takes bookings through its website

Virgin Islands Campground is open year-round; minimum stay is three nights; average rates for the cottages start at  $149 per night in low season, $229 per night in high season; suite rates range from $179 in low, $259 in high. Cancellations can be made up to 14 days prior to arrival with full refund. Any made after that result in a refund of all fees paid, less the deposit.

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