SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - This month the foundation Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) completed a year-long project to clear and map ten hiking sites in Sint 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. The work was made possible with funding from Tourism Cares and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association as part of their efforts to support post-hurricane rebuilding as many of the trails had been covered with debris.
EPIC selected a mix of urban, coastal, grassland and secondary forest trails. The trails give hikers the opportunity to enjoy the biodiversity and natural beauty of Sint Maarten. For example, in a dry, shaded area, hikers might find a Bearded Anole, found only on Sint Maarten.
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 steep ascents to high points on the island, giving spectacular panoramic views of Sint Maarten and neighboring 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.
The ten trails are: Billy Folly, Cay Bay to Little Bay, Fleming Property, Guana Bay, Fort Willem, Naked Boy Hill, Point Blanche, Sentry Hill, West Coast (Kim Sha), and Vineyard.
All the trails can be found and downloaded free from avenzamaps.com by searching for Sint Maarten or within 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 Project Coordinator Cadula Jones. Ms. Jones, whose motto is “Hike more, worry less,” says 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 Sint Maarten and taken lots of photos along the way! We are very easy going.”
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 kilograms of rubbish, mainly plastic from Geneve Bay, and then hiked the litter out to properly dispose of it. In March, as part of the DOET community event, volunteers, including a Montessori class, helped to clean the Sentry Hill trail and in August the Dutch Marines helped clean up trails and install the trailhead signs. In May the Dutch Representative’s Office made a donation to EPIC to fund trail maintenance after the initial project funding ends.
The two most popular hikes are 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 Sint Maarten; however, some might say the Naked Boy Hill hike gives it a run for its money as the final ascent is very steep. Some participants enjoy easier routes, so the volunteer hike leaders alternate between difficult and easier hikes.
And everyone has their favorite. “I like the Fleming Property trail the best, especially during the rainy season when Sint 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 Ms. Jones, has agreed to continue leading the EPIC hikes once a month. These will be held on the first Sunday of each month so they will be easy to remember. The EPIC Facebook page, facebook.com/epicislands, will provide details on each event. And of course, hikers can always download the maps and go anytime.
Participants on the Natural Pool hike walk through grassland with panoramic coastal views.