Hassel Island lies 200 feet from the sea wall in the Charlotte Amalie harbor, occupied over the years by the British during the Napoleonic Wars (a fort still remains) and then by the Danish.
By the mid-20th century, most of Hassel Island was privately owned. The Royal Mail Inn, the only hotel, is believed to be the hotel immortalized in Herman Wouk's novel "Don't Stop the Carnival."
The Virgin Islands National Park purchased the 136-acre island in 1978; since 2004, the park, along with the Hassel Island Preservation Trust and other organizations, has been working to restore its historical sites.
That involved removing 120 derelict vessels from the shoreline, including three that dated from Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, and collecting 1,800 bags of debris.
At a ceremony in late October, Mark Hardgrove, superintendent of the National Park Service, opened four Hassel Island hiking trails and targeted fall 2012 for the official opening of the entire island.
"The cruise ship industry is very pleased with the U.S. Virgin Islands as a tour destination," Hardgrove said. "They are planning to include Hassel Island on tours next fall."
Access to Hassel Island is via ferry from the Crown Bay dock. Although there are no plans for a visitor center, ferry tickets are sold at a kiosk along the waterfront.
Tours are self-guided with signs along the four hiking routes.
Virgin Island Ecotours offers kayaking tours to Hassel Island. viecotours.com