Wednesday , February 28 2024

Do you know the new Elfin Forest trail?

For years, James “Crocodile” Johnson talked about reestablishing the trails that were used by previous generations of Sabans to get to their farms on the slopes of the mountain. In those days, men and donkeys did the backbreaking work of bringing home bananas, tanyas, cristophenes, cabbage, pumpkin and much more. These small farms had to be cleared by chopping down one tree at a time. The land overlooking Hellsgate nourished many families of hardworking people, who depended on the rich volcanic soil and abundant rain for their sustenance.
In 2012 a small group of volunteers accompanied James to mark a trail from the banana plantation on Sandy Cruz, to the Red Nub and then to the top of Mt Scenery. The trail was steep and very slippery and it was soon abandoned.

Some of the volunteers

But 2014 a new trail was started with the objective of connecting to the Mt Scenery trail. This trail followed historical paths. We found old steps, parts of shoes and other reminders of the past. A natural water catchment jokingly called Lake Saba is one of the first points of interest. Some people still remember getting a drink of water from this pool long ago. In a nearby cave plastic containers were stored by someone using the water to water a nearby ‘garden’.
Progress the first few years was slow due to rain making the trail slippery and the time consuming task of moving many rocks to use as steps. On a few occasions very large boulders had to be rolled out of the path and they ended up tumbling down the mountain, creating their own path. We would laugh and call it the elephant trail. Anyone below might have heard the sound of a rogue elephant running through the bush. More steps had to be constructed and the new trail needed a great deal of benching. (Benching involves cutting into the higher slope with a pick or McCloud).


Volunteers creating the trail.

In 2016 Sam Naber, in honor of his wife Mariette, had a bench constructed on a huge rock overlooking Hellsgate, the Airport and Green island. Slowly progress was made and in 2017 the trail was almost to the top. The last section of trail was flagged in 2017 where it connected to the Mt. Scenery trail. The trail was named the Elfin trail after the elfin forest through which the trail passes. Our tools were stored in a cave, we call Anne’s cave. Named after Anne Lane, who came up the mountain to see our progress, even though she was in her eighties. Then disaster struck on September 7th 2017. Hurricane Erma followed by Hurricane Maria devastated Saba. Many trees were uprooted on the mountain and whole sections of trail had to be rebuilt or relocated.

More volunteers, including Saba Med and Broadreach students

But in 2018 The Elfin Trail was finally connected to the Mt Scenery Trail at the top of the mountain. Hikers who have walked the trail are impressed by the amazing vistas. Old banana plantations along with tanyas growing along the trail are reminders of the hard work done by Saban farmers long ago.

The trail winds through areas of two species of tree fern, epiphytic as well as terrestrial orchids. The mountain fuchsia colors the trailside a bright red. While two varieties of begonias splash pink and white along the mountainside. Raspberries grow along most of the trail and their sweet taste invigorates both birds and hikers.

some of the diverse species found along the trail
Although building this trail was a lot of work the comradery and shared accomplishment made it all worthwhile. An international group of colleagues Gerry, Ingrid, John and Lou from Canada, Roger, Pat, Mary Lynn and me from the U.S., James from Saba and Sam from the Netherlands lent an atmosphere of pirates from long ago.
Even when we are exhausted after a hard morning, we gather at one of our cottages for a beer and sandwich, after which we are again ready to tackle the world.

Elfin Forest Trail views
“To all the volunteers involved in this labor of love which became The Elfin Forest Trail, our heartfelt thanks for giving Saba something this beautiful.”
Paul Fleuren / Ingrid Zagers
Photos courtesy of: Paul Fleuren, Z.ePhotography and Saba Conservation Foundation.
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One comment

  1. Very good written wonderfull story!!!