Participants in the Natural Pool hike walk through grassland with panoramic coastal views.
PHILIPSBURG–Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) this month completed a year-long project to clear and map ten hiking sites in St. Maarten, place informational signs at trailheads, and provide free guided hikes along the trails.
The project has been very successful and gained support from the community, EPIC said in a press release. The work was made possible with funding from non-profit organisation Tourism Cares, and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), as part of their efforts to support post-hurricane rebuilding. Many of the island’s trails had been covered with debris.
EPIC selected a mix of urban, coastal, grassland and secondary forest trails. The 10 trails were Billy Folly, Cay Bay to Little Bay, Fleming Property, Guana Bay, Fort Willem, Naked Boy Hill, Pointe Blanche, Sentry Hill, West Coast (Kim Sha), and Vineyard.
The trails give hikers the opportunity to enjoy the biodiversity and natural beauty of St. Maarten. For example, in a dry, shaded area, hikers might find a Bearded Anole, a species of lizard endemic to the island.
The hikes are also of differing difficulties and rated by a three-tiered scale as easy, moderate, or challenging. Some trails are flat while others are undulating or have steep ascents to high points on the island, giving spectacular panoramic views of St. Maarten and the neighbouring islands.
The diverse landscapes include walking on beaches, or by the natural pool of Guana Bay, allowing hikers to take a dip in the sea to cool off.
All the trails can be found and downloaded free of charge from
avenzamaps.com or from the free Avenza app. There hikers can find out the difficulty and approximate amount of time needed to complete the trail. Maps of each trail can be downloaded onto a mobile device, allowing the hiker to follow the trail in real time.
The project was led by EPIC Project Coordinator Cadula Jones.
Jones, whose personal motto is “Hike more, worry less,” said the hikes have been joyful events. “We’ve had children and older people, the Pathfinders church group and professionals, residents and tourists, and we have always smiled, enjoyed the beauty of St. Maarten and taken lots of photos along the way! We are very easy going,” she said.
Hundreds of participants have taken part in the bi-weekly hikes, evidence of the demand for outdoor and nature-based experiences.
In addition, EPIC partnered with TriSport to lead a “Hero Hike,” during which volunteers collected 66 kilogrammes of rubbish, mainly plastic, from Geneve Bay, and then hiked the litter out to properly dispose of it. In March, as part of SXM DOET’s community event, volunteers, including a Montessori class, helped to clean the Sentry Hill trail.
The Dutch Representative’s Office donated to EPIC in May to fund trail maintenance after the initial project funding ends. Dutch Marines also helped clean up trails and install trailhead signs this month.
The two most popular hikes during the project were Guana Bay, with its sweeping vistas, and Sentry Hill, which is one of the most difficult with its rocky climb to the highest point on St. Maarten. However, some said the Naked Boy Hill hike gives Sentry Hill a run for its money, as its final ascent is very steep.
“I like the Fleming Property trail the best, especially during the rainy season when St. Maarten is watered and green,” said one of the volunteer hike leaders. “I love that there is a section of forest canopy you get to walk through. There I always feel I’ve left the world behind.”
Many participants expressed similar sentiments, remarking on the mental health benefits of being out in nature.
The project will continue on a smaller scale as a core group of volunteers, including Jones, has agreed to continue leading EPIC hikes once a month. These will be held on the first Sunday of every month.
Persons seeking information about EPIC events are asked to visit EPIC’s Facebook page
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/90472-epic-completes-project-to-clear-and-map-hiking-sites