International volunteers and islanders are banding together to restore the Waitukubuli National Trail, a long distance hiking route that was a flagship attraction before Hurricane Maria struck.
On 18 September 2017, Hurricane Maria hit Dominica, killing 65 people, destroying roads, bridges and farms, and leaving 90 per cent of homes without a roof. Forests were decimated, bridges snapped in half, valleys scarred by terrifying landslides.
What would you do after a night like that?
Within two months Annette and Stefan Loerner, owners of the Tamarind Tree Hotel in Salisbury, had decided the best way to encourage visitors back to Dominica was to restore a popular section of the now blocked Waitukubuli National Trail, a 185km (115 mile) hiking route that had been a major attraction on the island.
After three months organising tools, overseas volunteers and financial support they started work in February 2018 on a 12km (eight mile) stretch of arboreal mayhem known as Segment 11. Willing hands have come from many directions, varying from hotel guests who decide to lend a hand on the day to travellers who have booked a volontourism package organised by UK tour operator MotMot Travel.
Toiling away in the heat with a cutlass and hard-hat, it’s clear volunteering like this is as hands on as it gets. First the chainsaws go in, slicing through the massive fallen gommier trees. Then a team of clearers follows, rolling the logs away, clearing branches and hacking down vines. Finally the bush-cutters move in, strimming a clear path that future walkers can follow.
Are such efforts worthwhile? We think so. For a start, a valuable nature-based attraction is being rescued from oblivion. This restoration will not only attract and benefit hikers – its social impact is much wider as it is helps farmers access their crops and supports accommodation providers, food producers, taxi drivers and guides who all live by tourism.
The project is also providing ongoing paid work for local villagers as the trail has to be maintained every three months. In addition, Dominicans get some well-structured, morale-lifting, hands-on help from the outside world through Tamarind Tree’s voluntourism package. It’s about getting Dominica back on track, literally, and it’s achieving it.
Images: image 5 © Tamarind Tree Hotel; all others © The Coconut Times