Reed Travel Features

WATER ISLAND, U.S. Virgin Islands -- The dateline is not a typographical error.

Water Island officially became the fourth U.S. Virgin Island in December, joining the triumvirate of St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas.

Fifty acres of the 490-acre island were transferred from the U.S. Department of the Interior to the government of the U.S. Virgin Islands in a ceremony attended by Gov. Roy Schneider and Interior Department officials.

Most visitors who already have been to the U.S.V.I. have driven by, flown over or sailed by Water Island without knowing it.

It is plainly visible to anyone driving on or walking along Veterans Drive on the waterfront in Charlotte Amalie.

Water Island is half a mile wide and less than a mile long and sits in the harbor of St. Thomas one-quarter of a mile from Charlotte Amalie. Its highest elevation is 300 feet above sea level.

Water Island is adjacent to the smaller Hassel Island, which also sits in the harbor.

The U.S. Army used the island as a base in World War I. It was acquired by the Defense Dept. during World War II for use as a military installation.

In 1952, the island was transferred to the Department of the Interior and leased by a private corporation, which built the Water Island Hotel several years later.

At the same time, smaller plots of land were subleased for the construction of private homes, about 200 of which still are occupied.

A separate 12-unit hillside property, called Limestone Reef Terraces, was built in 1957 and purchased in 1979 by its current owners, Joan and Paul Murray, who operate the apartment units on a year-round basis for overnight guests and short-term renters.

The Water Island Hotel was damaged seriously by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and never reopened. Plans call for the demolition of what remains of the site.

As one of his tourism goals, Schneider wants to transform Water Island into the "showplace" of the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to tourism officials, and to attract a major hotel chain.

Once the island becomes a tourist attraction in its own right in the U.S.V.I., it will be marketed as an attraction within the territory.

The public roads, beaches, catchment basin, two docks and a hotel site were included in the initial 50-acre transfer.

The transfer of the remaining acreage will occur in four separate stages as agreements with homeowners are made final, according to Allen Stayman, director of the insular affairs office of the Interior Dept.

The department plans to spend $3.3 million to spruce up the island for development.

Already, the government of the U.S.V.I. renovated the ferry dock, built a beach restaurant and paved the parking lot next to the ferry dock.

A helicopter landing pad was installed to transport dignitaries and government officials to Water Island for the December transfer ceremony.

Water Island's Honeymoon Beach, already open to visitors, can be reached by a five-minute ferry ride from Charlotte Amalie's Crown Bay Marina.

The Launch With Larry ferry service departs several times a day in both directions; a roundtrip ticket is priced at $6, a weekly pass is $25 and a monthly pass is $80.

Additional evening ferries are scheduled on the weekends.

For ferry information, call (809) 775-8071 or (809) 779-6807. For information on Water Island, call (800) 372-USVI.

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