Tag Archives: memories

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!!

A Darkened Bay

The area around Maho Bay was always quiet, but now as the island gets ready for “the busy season” it seems eerily lifeless…

September and October are the slowest months here on island. It is when we are most likely to get a hurricane, it is when the cooling trade winds die down and the humidity seems to rise, it is when many business close and spruce up their shops or take a much needed break before the busy season starts. And this year the government shutdown tried to close almost the entire island! (Thankfully the beaches are open again.)

September/October is also when the grocery stores don’t carry as much variety in produce as during the tourist season, or what they have looks like it has been sitting there for a month. Last week I saw that a carton of strawberries costing $10 and they were all rotten. All these issues mean that September & October are good time for locals to take a vacation elsewhere or get creative. Nevertheless we have had a lot of visitors to the island this summer, I would say more than usual. I can recall going to the beach and having it to myself last September! (Big Maho Bay & Cinnamon.) This year the beaches seem to have stayed consistently busy as more people are saving money to visit when it is less expensive to travel here.

The nearly deserted beach at Big Maho Bay in September 2012.
The nearly deserted beach at Big Maho Bay in September 2012.

A vacationer approached me while I was waiting in line at the post office last week. He wanted to ask some questions about living here and I was happy to oblige. He asked the usual questions regarding costs of homes or rent, with some comments that the island needed some other stores. Then he mentioned the cost of groceries and wondered where the locals shopped? Is there a secret store where locals go to pay a better price on their food? I almost laughed out loud, but said “No, we pay the same high prices that you do. Have you filled up your rental car with gas yet? We pay that same high price too!”

Sometimes it takes a while for visitors to understand that everything must be shipped here: food, gas, lumber or concrete for building, cars, clothing, and furniture and as a result they cost more. St. John has the same problem with trash: everything has to be shipped off island to a landfill elsewhere, at great expense. “So you’re saying there are no secret stores that have cheaper goods for locals?” he asked.  I think that would be every islander’s fantasy!!  However the people who live here love the island despite the lack of amenities and even basic goods that most take for granted back home. And we share equally on the things that are inexpensive: locals and visitors pay the same price at Happy Hour, as alcohol is the one thing on island that is not expensive….

This conversation got me thinking about Maho Bay Camp and the people who loved to stay there when they came to St. John. Many of them arrived already understanding that they were living differently than they do at home.  They spent their time in a sort of screened-in porch for the duration of their visit. And that was why many people came back to Maho to stay – for the entirely unique experience that is possible in this climate. It rarely occurred to me to wonder why this minimally developed Caribbean island was not just like where I lived back in the States.  I certainly have missed some of the conveniences, but I came here because there was nothing like this back home. So I expected some differences and made whatever accommodations were necessary to enjoy my time here.

Maho Bay Camp was a great way to visit St. John in an economical way. If guests were willing to sleep listening to the tree frogs and the crashing of the waves (which I preferred anyway) they could save money, and have it for other fun activities or for another visit in the future.

St. John does not need a secret grocery store for locals, or a Marshall’s or Best Buy (I’ve heard that comment), or a fast food joint.  What we need is a diversity of options for people who want to stay here and enjoy the National Park and the rest of the island. One like Maho Bay Camp, where visitors were enveloped in the natural environment and understood more readily the dynamics of living on an island. You might sleep though the rain and thunderstorms in an air-conditioned room at the Westin or in a villa, but not at Maho! And in the morning at Maho you might wake to the pink clouds reflecting the sunrise from the west, later to watch bananaquits eat their breakfast of bowl of sugar near the Dining Pavilion.

So here we are at mid-October. I am noticing small signs that the island is perking up: people are arriving to look for jobs, cars and apartments; business are reopening; I hear live music traveling up the hill to my living room more and more nights; the parking lots in town and at the beaches are getting full; large yachts are showing up out in the bays again, even if only passing by. There is a general buzz beginning as everyone starts getting ready for the arrival of winter.

It was sad to drive home recently along North Shore Road after dark. I stopped at the Maho Bay Overlook.  There was nothing to see. It was pitch black. There was not enough light from the moon to even illuminate the hills around the bay. It was sad to feel this beginning buzz of the upcoming season and see no life whatsoever where Maho Bay Camp lived for so many decades. And all the more so when so many people wanted to keep visiting.

Someone found a hiding place for spare shoes in the E-Section?
Someone found a hiding place for spare shoes in the E-Section?