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Laurance Rockefeller: Guardian of Paradise in the Virgin Islands

Laurance Rockefeller: A Visionary Force in Shaping the Virgin Islands

Laurance Rockefeller, scion of the renowned Rockefeller family, left an indelible mark on the Virgin Islands, contributing significantly to the region’s development and conservation efforts. Born on May 26, 1910, Laurance Rockefeller was not only a successful businessman but also a passionate advocate for environmental conservation and sustainable development. His impact on the Virgin Islands, particularly on the island of St. John, is a testament to his commitment to preserving the natural beauty of these tropical paradises.

In the mid-20th century, Laurance Rockefeller became captivated by the allure of the Caribbean, and in the early 1950s, he turned his attention to the Virgin Islands. At that time, the islands faced the challenges of overdevelopment and environmental degradation. Recognizing the need for responsible development that would balance economic progress with the preservation of natural resources, Rockefeller set out on a mission to make a positive impact.

One of Rockefeller’s most significant contributions was the establishment of the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John in 1956. Inspired by the success of the Jackson Hole National Monument in Wyoming, which he played a role in creating, Rockefeller saw the potential for a similar conservation initiative in the Virgin Islands. He purchased vast tracts of land on St. John and donated them to the federal government, laying the foundation for what would become one of the most biodiverse national parks in the United States.


an island in the middle of a body of water

Trunk Bay, St. John, Virgin Islands National Park


The creation of the Virgin Islands National Park was a groundbreaking step in environmental conservation. It encompassed pristine beaches, lush tropical forests, and vibrant coral reefs, providing a sanctuary for a wide array of plant and animal species. Rockefeller’s vision extended beyond the preservation of natural beauty; he sought to create a space where visitors could appreciate the environment while promoting sustainable tourism.

In addition to his conservation efforts, Rockefeller played a pivotal role in the development of eco-friendly resorts on St. John. The Caneel Bay Resort, opened in 1956, exemplified his commitment to blending luxury with environmental responsibility. Set within the boundaries of the Virgin Islands National Park, the resort harmoniously integrated with the natural surroundings, offering guests an immersive experience in the Caribbean’s pristine beauty.

Rockefeller’s approach to tourism emphasized the importance of responsible development and the coexistence of humans and nature. His resorts prioritized sustainability, utilizing innovative design and construction techniques to minimize their ecological footprint. Caneel Bay Resort, in particular, set the standard for eco-friendly tourism, demonstrating that economic progress could be achieved without compromising the natural environment.

Beyond his contributions to the physical landscape, Rockefeller’s influence extended to the cultural and social aspects of the Virgin Islands. Recognizing the importance of preserving local heritage, he supported initiatives to document and celebrate the rich history and traditions of the islands. Rockefeller’s commitment to community engagement ensured that the benefits of his projects reached the local population, fostering a sense of pride and ownership among the residents.

Laurance Rockefeller’s impact on the Virgin Islands was not limited to his conservation and development efforts. He also played a role in shaping environmental policy and promoting sustainability on a broader scale. Through his philanthropy and advocacy, Rockefeller influenced government policies that aimed to protect natural resources and promote responsible tourism in the Caribbean and beyond.


a person standing in front of a body of water

Laurance Rockefeller in St. John, USVI


The legacy of Laurance Rockefeller in the Virgin Islands is enduring. The Virgin Islands National Park remains a testament to his foresight and dedication to preserving the environment for future generations. His vision of sustainable tourism has inspired countless initiatives globally, demonstrating that economic progress and environmental conservation can go hand in hand.

In conclusion, Laurance Rockefeller’s impact on the Virgin Islands is a story of visionary leadership and a commitment to balancing progress with the preservation of natural beauty. Through the creation of the Virgin Islands National Park and the development of eco-friendly resorts, Rockefeller set a precedent for responsible tourism that continues to shape the region today. His legacy serves as a beacon for those who strive to create a harmonious relationship between humanity and the environment, reminding us that through thoughtful and sustainable development, we can protect and celebrate the world’s most precious treasures.