The recent controversy over the offer of a private 7.7-acre lease of Holywell, part of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, has rekindled my memories of the area before it was managed under Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust. The following notes are an attempt to share some of these memories, unfortunately without the benefit of recordings or references.
Initially managed by the Forestry Department since 1938, Holywell was a forest reserve listed among other forest properties and patents listed together as components of the Blue Mountain Forest Preserve. The main access was via Hardwar Gap, beyond Newcastle, but the reserve was also accessible via Maryland via Rosehill, another forest reserve at the source of the Wag Water River. Much of Rosehill had been planted by the water commission with Hong Kong pines ( Pinus merkusii), possibly in the early 1900s, and later with eucalyptus ( E. saligna). Apparently, plantations had extended to Holywell to restore the barren areas left by squatters and shifting cultivation.
Even before the demarcation and reservation of most of the island’s woodlands, many naturally vegetated properties had been visited by hikers and naturalists, and treks in the Hardwar Gap area were very popular among lovers of nature, bird watchers, students on vacation and family outings. For most sites, the department usually had a ranger or department manager with a notebook to record visitors and their comments, and in 1962 the department adopted a “forest recreation” policy to encourage more visitors. visitors and enjoy the amenities of the forests.
During the previous forest colonization process, a number of small cabins and huts had been constructed (by the Lands Department) to house the field survey team (mainly Eric M. Brown and Martin Bertram). For example, wooden houses were located in Portland Gap on the trail to Blue Mountain Peak; Bruton Hall in the hills above the Rio Grande; Bullhead Mountain in the center of the island; and Hardwar Gap, where in Holywell the cottage was known as “Robin’s View”. Sometimes, when not in use by staff or survey teams, these cabins were rented for a nominal fee to overnight visitors, naturalists and hikers, and as demand increased, the department decided to explore the possibility of increasing accommodation.
After Jamaica’s independence and the departure of the British curator, Jan Burra (who had been instrumental in the restoration of the coffee mill and the Clydesdale farm buildings), Derrick Dyer was installed as curator, and more later replaced by Keats Hall, who applied for and obtained the Government Approval of Budget Funds to open a series of facilities in the Holywell and Guria Forest Reserves, to provide signage, improved trails, construction of shelters picnic area “rondeval” and rustic sanitary facilities. In 1965, the department decided to build the first log cabin at Holywell to increase overnight accommodation and income, as well as to demonstrate the use of plantation lumber.
Completed in Easter 1966, the two-bedroom cabin was designed by the late architect Denham ‘Denny’ Repole and featured a split roof with a north skylight and chimney. Built by Lushington County Carpenter ‘Boysie’ McClean, the structure was made entirely from locally grown sawn eucalyptus wood and was clad on the outside with specially machined stacked slabs. In the following years, another cabin was built, as well as a pavilion for groups.
Over the years, the number of visitors to the recreation area has grown steadily, and the number of comments and suggestions from visitors, kept by Rangers and Chiefs like Dudley Davis (who lived in Maryland) , testified to the success of the policy. Indeed, these records would later serve a useful purpose in defense against a private proposal to lease the entire Holywell Recreation Area for mountain chalet resort development. The issue was presented by the then Minister of Rural Spatial Planning during his monthly meeting with the heads of departments. It was reported that the director of forestry, Keats Hall, had so strongly opposed the proposal that the minister had requested a guided tour of the facilities and that a date had been set after Easter that year. He further indicated that he would invite the proposed developers to join him on the tour. This opinion gave the ministry the opportunity to prepare an appropriate management document to support its justification of the forest recreation policy and which demonstrated the importance of the forest recreation policy and the tangible benefits that forests provide to citizens. from the country. Needless to say, it was with a sense of satisfaction that after the tour the Minister was happy to reject the proposal and extended his heartfelt congratulations to the Director and the Department for the way the matter had been handled.
Guy Symes is the former Managing Director of The Forest Conservancy, he has over 50 years of professional experience in forest management and forest industry development in Jamaica, the Caribbean and West Africa. Send your comments to [email protected]