Category Archives: People

Stanley Selengut, Maho Bay Camp’s Founder

I have been absent lately working on other things, but in the process of working on an upcoming post I found some interesting interviews with Stanley Selengut, the founder of Maho Bay Camp, Harmony Studios and Concordia,  that I wanted to share. Despite having worked there for many years, I never heard him speak much and am always surprised when I see so much attributed to him. My impression of him was almost one of shyness, but he is very personable and revealing in his YouTube video!

The text below is a long excerpt from the September 15, 2008 edition of American Way (magazine of American Airlines), in an article entitled “Paradise Lost?” by Jack Boulware.

DESPITE MAHO BAY CAMPS’ reputation as a green destination, Stanley Selengut says his original vision had little to do with conservation. “I was going to build a little lodge right on the ocean, and a nice old couple would run it. They’d have a little scuba boat and a little sailboat. My friends would visit, I would visit, and if it lost money, who cares, because I could take my vacations as a tax deduction.”

When the news arrived that a New York builder had gotten hold of commercially zoned property, the park superintendent of St. John was irate. He met with Selengut, telling him that development could easily disrupt topsoil, potentially ruining the beaches and coral reefs. Selengut then agreed to construct a pedestrian community, with elevated walkways between the trees so nothing would be destroyed.

“In those days, the way you developed was you clear-cut the land, you built what you wanted to build, and then you landscaped with grass and palm trees,” Selengut says. Instead, he hired a few locals and built a series of 18 tent cabins, inspired by structures he’d seen on a trip to Africa. All the buildings were erected on hand-dug footings in order to minimize impact to the land.

From the beginning, the idea was for Maho Bay to be affordable, not elitist. “That was more of a challenge than the green part,” Selengut admits. “Being green, if you have endless supplies of money and want to charge $600 a night, isn’t that hard. But being green and remaining affordable doubles the challenge.”

Not long after Maho Bay opened, two things happened that completely changed the little camp: Neighboring hotels began to send their overbooked customers to the ecoresort, and a writer for the New York Times came to visit and wrote an article that went on to be reprinted throughout the United States.

“We were full right off the bat,” Selengut remembers. “That gave me the feeling this wasn’t really a toy — there was a real market for what is now called nature-based travel, or ecotourism. So that gave me the encouragement to put some real money into it and make it into a real business.”

As more cabins were built, Selengut’s curiosity about his customers grew. He would send every guest a personal letter with a questionnaire and a postage-paid return envelope addressed to his office in New York. Many of the suggestions he received in those replies came from professional landscapers and botanists and were directly incorporated into the Maho Bay design plan. Other ideas were a little different.

“One guest was an artist who worked in fabric,” Selengut says. “I went down [and found a] worker taking our waste sheets and tie-dyeing them and batiking them and sewing them into stuff. Somebody else found out that a kiln can fire ceramics using pallet wood [as fuel], so we’d go to the dump and get bunches of pallet wood and use it to fire the kiln. And then somebody came up with the idea that we could take the lint from the laundry and mix it with the office paper and water in a blender to make art paper. Every time I go down there, they’re doing something new that sounds like great fun.”

Neat little interview recorded with Stanley Selengut & posted by Audubon Magazine in 2008:

(this was posted five years ago and does not appear to allow embedding, so click on this link to watch it on YouTube!)

 

Maho Guest Spotlight

Althea, Maho's beloved calico cat, sleeping in one of her favorite places along Maho's boardwalks. Please donate to the fund established in her memory.
Althea, Maho’s beloved calico cat, sleeping in one of her favorite places along Maho’s boardwalks. Please donate to the fund established in her memory.

“In Memory of Althea,

the Beloved Calico Cat of Maho Bay Camp”

Today I want to share to a meaningful charitable cause and initiated by a generous and thoughtful former Maho Bay guest, Cathey Beard.  Cathey, who first visited St. John in the early 80’s and later stayed at Maho Bay Camps with her children, has set up a charitable fund “In Memory of Althea, Beloved Calico of Maho Bay Camps”, in honor of Althea who many guests came to love while staying at Maho. Sadly, Althea passed away a few months after Maho’s closing. All donations will benefit the non-profit St. John Animal Care Center (ACC), going towards care of the islands cats.

The ACC states “the money raised from the “In memory of Althea” fund will help us catch/feed/spay & neuter/medicate many of the islands stray cats. And not just the free roaming cats, but the cats that the shelter puts up for adoption. One of the shelters biggest expenses is supplying the feeding stations on island. Last year the ACC caught 321 cats and had them fixed. Our main goal is population control.”

You may donate to Cathey’s ACC fundraiser online at Razoo.com, linked here.

Cathey Beard and her daughter Lauren at Maho Bay's Dining Pavilion. Cathey has established a fundraiser in honor of Althea, Maho's beloved Calico Cat.
Cathey Beard and her daughter Lauren at Maho Bay’s Dining Pavilion. Cathey has established a fundraiser in honor of Althea, Maho’s beloved Calico Cat.

Not only has Cathey visited Maho and St. John on at least seven trips over the years, but her daughter Lauren fell in love with the island too and came down as a 4-hour worker for a couple of summers at Maho Bay Camp. Cathey’s feelings about the specialness of her time at Maho Bay Camp captures a collective sentiment:

“Maho to me is HEAVEN!! For a marine biologist who grew up in Miami and the Florida Keys – for a frustrated scuba diver who can only snorkel because of ear problems – to someone who just thrives on sand, sea, sunrises & sunsets – it was always perfect!! To be able to walk off a beautiful beach into crystal clear water to see glorious reef fish and corals – it was just “Heaven on Earth” to me!!  I am so praying that heaven is just like Maho when the time comes too!!  We visited Annaberg Ruins on New Year’s Day one year and saw a huge pod of dolphins down below.  One dolphin did couple of flips out of the water in front of a small boat – I’m sure those people couldn’t believe it!

I want to wholeheartedly thank Cathey for creating this fund for the ACC and the island cats on her own time! It was her intention to create a positive way to respond to the sadness of losing Maho Bay Camps and of losing Althea as well. This is Cathey’s third summer fostering cats and kittens at her local animal shelter, and her work inspired the idea for the In Memory of Althea Fund. She knows there is always a tremendous need for help, homes and funding! And while she knows firsthand the beauty of St. John, it is also a harsh environment for homeless animals trying to fend for themselves. And it seems Althea was doing just that for a while. Cathey said she can’t stand to think of helpless animals suffering in this challenging environment.

We need more people like Cathey who respond to situations with thought, compassion and inclusion of others (human and animal!), versus simply reacting to what happens around us.  All it takes is one person who feels strongly about doing something good to make a big impact, especially on St. John.

Please go to the Razoo site and make a donation if inclined.

Or you can help by sharing the donation page with friends who you know would like to help!

Thanks from both of us!!

Bringing People Together: Flat tires, Mooie and Maho Tents!

Living on a small island creates some distinct challenges.

As a small but recent example, last week as I was leaving for Cruz Bay I saw my car’s back tire was completely flat.  With no time to do anything about it, I headed down the hill to the Coral Bay “crossroads” to hitch a ride to town.  Since I was going to work I was completely overdressed for the short walk in the island’s persistent humidity.  On the way I spoke to a neighbor who told me he had an air compressor at the house. Perfect! All I have to do is buy a tire patch kit.  Reaching the crossroads, I got a ride immediately in a nice air-conditioned car with a couple from the east end.  Ahhhh…  The next morning, with the help of a friend and the neighbor’s air compressor, the car was on the road again. 

On St. John there is no Triple A to call for help, no dealer where you drop off your car and take a loaner for the day, and a tow truck might cost a week’s pay.   There is no hospital but a clinic where the doctor is called out of bed to come in if there is an emergency after hours and weekends, Internet and power is sometimes simply not there, and cell phone service is not consistent. Throw in hurricanes and what you have is an island that loves its Happy Hour! And it also makes you aware of how you need the help of others and they need your help in return. The very act of thinking who you know and seeking them out for a favor makes you more aware of this.

This is a lengthy way to convey that on St. John when people want to accomplish something, they usually do it by working with each other, not as a single entity or by working against one another other.  Perhaps it is because we never know who we will be asking assistance from in the future, or maybe it is just the friendly attitude of many of the people who live here, yet either way, we can often find someone willing to help when it is needed.

Secondly, there is the history of the island that makes many people wary when someone arrives suddenly and intends to change things, or non-residents want to make changes without any alliances with the people who live here.  No matter how needed the idea or good the intention (even assuming the best), it may be received poorly.  A important example relates to the establishment of the national park on St. John.  A brief background goes something like this:  Rockefeller wanted to help create the national park on St. John.  As most books will tell you, he bought some land and donated it to the park along with others. But before that the US Department of the Interior had intended to condemn the privately held land on the island in order to expand the park holdings.  Senator (V.I. Legislature) Theovald E. Moorehead, “Mooie” as he was known on St. John, led the protest against this amendment and won!  The St. John and Cruz Bay you see when you get off the ferry today is credited to the efforts of “Mooie”! 

This series of events occurred in the late 1950’s when tourists were just starting to visit St. John.  I have yet to find it in any books that write about the history of St. John but everyone who lives her knows that history.  I spent some time searching the internet because, without a finding the story in the history books written about the island, I was beginning to think it was an “urban legend”.  However I found numerous references online to Mooie’s hard work in saving St. John and have provided two links that discuss the remarkable history here.

With an awareness of these two island themes, I want to share some photos a friend posted on Facebook recently.  This person got a closer look at the Maho tents, shared the images and I was given permission to share them here.  By posting these images I am not trying to point out any problems or call for any changes.  My belief is that the time for “saving” Maho was in the years before it was sold.  I am sharing what I know of a place that has been a large part of the island for decades.  And I know the people who visited and cherished their time at Maho are curious.  It does not actually answer anyone’s questions other than to know their current physical state.  And I am encouraged to see what appears to be a thoughtful dismantling that is not damaging the fragile hillside or making a wreck of reusable lumber, particularly since resources here are precious.

A10 as it looks now, screens and "Stanley cloth" are gone.
A10 as it looks now, screens and “Stanley cloth” are gone.
View from inside A10 in May of this year (2013).
View from inside A10 in May of this year (2013).

I do hope that the wood that served as the tent-cabin floors is reused/donated, whatever the case may be.  It is currently exposed since the roofs have been removed and will not fare as well exposed to the tropical sun, rain and leaves that will fall, accumulate and hold moisture. There is plenty of wood that needs to be disposed of but not those pieces.

Tents at the end of the the A-Section boardwalk.
Tents at the end of the the A-Section boardwalk.
B11 and B12: Double Vision
B11 and B12: Double Vision

It might be nice to hear from the current owner, especially if the activity on the land is something locals can support.  And there are a number of island organizations that have decades of experience dealing with a variety of potentially relevant issues – from material reuse, native plantings, sustainability, to tropical design and construction – and would be a valuable resource.  Which leads me back to my introduction; that this is a community where people more accustomed to helping their neighbors because we know that we need each other to thrive on an island of limited resources.  All of our lives become entwined here in one way or another. 

Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends.  Economics has made us partners, and necessity has made us allies…”   – John F. Kennedy

A B-section tent. Without anyone there the leaves are beginning to accumulate. Seems the games of 'Leaf Golf' our housekeeping crew used to play kept the boardwalks looking great!
A B-section tent. Without anyone there the leaves are beginning to accumulate. Seems the games of ‘Leaf Golf’ our housekeeping crew used to play kept the boardwalks looking great!
A view from the A-boardwalk taken about 12 years ago.
A view from the A-boardwalk taken about 12 years ago.
Former Maho tent overlooking Big Maho Bay.
Former Maho tent overlooking Big Maho Bay.

 Little Maho beach with tiny baby Maho tress popping up in the sand already.Little Maho beach with tiny baby Maho tress popping up in the sand already.