In the 1960s, following the connection of the Eastern District to the rest of Dominica’s road network, a folk song was composed and sung at a National Day Cultural Gala: “Annou hélé houré. Annou hélé bravo. Annou hélé houré, houré, chimen wivé ovan!” This translates literally to, “Let us shout ‘Hooray’. Let us shout ‘Bravo’. Let us shout ‘Hooray, Hooray’, road has reached the Eastern District.”
Now, about six decades later, folks from the greater Roseau area as well as stake holders in the tourism sector have good reason to sing, “Let’s shout ‘Hooray’. Let’s shout ‘Bravo’. Let’s shout ‘Hooray, Hooray’, Jack’s Walk is open once again!”
Residents of the greater Roseau area, particularly some of the users of the Botanic Gardens, would be familiar with Jack’s Walk, the short trail that winds its way up from the Gardens to end at The Cross at Morne Bruce. Cruise ship and stay-over visitors to the Gardens often take the 10-15 minute “hike” past 35 Steps and then up the trail.
Besides the tourists, ordinary Dominicans also utilize Jack’s Walk. Some use the trail as a short-cut between the Police Training School, Morne Bruce and the Gardens; others for training and exercise; and still others for sight-seeing. Some of the pilgrims who attend the Roman Catholic Church’s Stations of the Cross on Good Friday morning at The Morne often trek down the trail to get back to Roseau following the activity.
Jack’s Walk was constructed during the establishment of the Botanic Gardens in the late 1880s, and joins 35 Steps and the Bamboo House as the most popular features of the once magnificent Gardens.
In 2006, some much-needed rehabilitation work was undertaken on the trail with financial assistance from the Ministry of Tourism. That upgrade was reported in the 2007 Illustrated Guide to Dominica’s Botanic Gardens but, by and large, this work was accomplished without any fanfare or media attention.
However, in mid-2017, Jack’s Walk attracted a fair amount of public attention – including social media – when, after some much-needed upgrade of the trail had begun and was progressing satisfactorily – at least to some, a group of Dominicans comprising an attorney, some family members, relatives and office staff, utilizing what some may consider privilege of position, filed and obtained a court injunction to stop work on the trail.
According to a DaVibes story published on 23rd June 2017, “The High Court of Justice has ordered that Jack’s Walk be closed for seven days as a result of an order of prohibition filed”. Dominica News Online also carried a story on the closure of the trail. The order was issued on 21st June.
However, Wednesday 28th June 2017 came, then vanished, and there has been no change in the status of the trail in terms of the work stoppage or its sudden closure.
Then came “Monstress Maria”, just under three months after the announcement of the court order. Many who saw the Botanic Gardens on, and during the weeks following 19th September 2017, expressed the opinion that “Jack’s Walk finish!” And, “No more Jacks Walk again!”
Looking up above the tangled, woody, vegetative mess that Maria had left in the Gardens towards the area of The Cross, many would probably have agreed with those who had expressed such opinions.
From down below, one could see several toppled clumps of bamboo, uprooted trees and what appeared to be small landslides in the area where the Jack’s Walk trail would have traversed.
On 1st October 2017, the writer walked up the Morne Bruce Road and attempted to reach The Cross. However the end of the road beyond the viewpoint was impassable due to the crowns of several toppled trees blocking the access.
In May 2018, starting from the Botanic Gardens end, Jack’s Walk was successfully cleared, cleaned and reopened by the Maintenance Crew of the Forestry, Wildlife & Parks Division. The crew must be complimented for a job well done under the circumstances. On the afternoon of Friday 25th, for the records, I hiked up the trail which features some eleven switch-backs.
The two large Naked Indian trees, the large White Cedar, some of the bamboo clumps and several “Zing-zing” and Savonnèt trees were uprooted by Hurricane Maria and these had to be cleared from the trail. A few areas are in need of further improvement in order to address some safety and other concerns.
I did note however, clumps of Lang-bèf, a large Saman tree struggling to remain alive after being battered by Maria – similar to the three left in the Gardens below; a Large-leaf Mahogany with a broken stem, a couple of Savonnèt and Flamboyant trees near the edge of the trail, and a couple of standing and spouting bamboo clumps. That species of bamboo, which is not the Common Bamboo that one finds around the island, last flowered about 20 years ago.
Wildlife observed while on the trail include scores of the dreaded Puerto Rican lizard, a few Dominican Ground Lizards (Abòlò), a few vocalizing “Gounouj” (small frogs), and birds such as Zenaida Dove, House Wren, Bullfinch, Yellow Warbler and Thrashers. Hundreds of the little red berries of the vine which took over the back of the Gardens and elsewhere post-Maria, were on the ground and on the dried up vines covering the trees.
While progressing up the trail, I met a lady who was doing her exercise walk. She had reached The Cross and was heading back down.
Upon reaching the end of Jack’s Walk, the view was breath-taking, even with so many badly damaged trees in the foreground and in the distance. The Cross and the 18th Century cannon stood on a well-mowed lawn, and the late afternoon sun cast some interesting shadows on the grounds.
I was treated to views of Central Roseau, the Gardens, Bath Estate, Goodwill, St Aroment, Potterville, Stock Farm, Fond Colé, Bellevue Rawle, the Canefield Cliffs and the Roseau Valley. Looking south I also caught a glimpse of Scott’s Head point.
I took several photos of the landscape and the setting sun, and at about 5:50 p.m. I started to make my way back down. About half-way down the trail I met a small group of four women – led by a Barbadian – hiking up.
It must be remembered that the June 2017 court order was never lifted, and according to a June 2017 release from the then Ministry of Tourism & Urban Renewal, “All persons traversing the trail do so at their own risk” – as reported in the media.