It also preserves upland watersheds, mangrove forests, and estuarine and marine environments that support threatened and endangered species. The site is marked by Fort Salé, a remaining earthworks fortification from the French period of occupation, about 1617. The park also preserves prehistoric and colonial-era archeological sites including the only existent example of a ball court in the Caribbean.
The area's blend of sea and land holds some of the largest remaining mangrove forests in the Virgin Islands, as well as coral reefs and a submarine canyon. Salt River Bay's natural history, its vitally important ecosystem of mangroves, estuary, coral reefs, and submarine canyon, has witnessed thousands of years of human endeavor. Every major period of human habitation in the Virgin Islands is represented: several South American Indian cultures, the 1493 encounter with Columbus, Spanish extermination of the Caribs, attempts at colonization by a succession of European nations, and enslaved West Africans and their descendants. More than a dozen major archeological investigations since 1880, together with historical research, reveal a remarkable story.
On February 24, 1992 Congress created the park, under cooperative management of the National Park Service and Government of the Virgin Islands of the United States. These agencies jointly manage this park. As an historic area of the National Park Service, the park was administratively listed on the National Register of Historic Places on the same day. The Columbus landing site had already been designated a National Historic Landmark on October 9, 1960. The Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve will be honored as part of the America the Beautiful Quarters in 2020.