Happy 2016! Let’s celebrate one of the best things about St. John – the Virgin Islands National Park. Today, let’s take a V.I. National Park Ranger led hike down the L’Esperance Trail, written by Andrea Milam.
By Andrea Milam
St. John Tradewinds
With two historic estates, two decidedly different natural environments, and the island’s only baobab tree, the two and a half mile L’Esperance hike is packed full of history and nature.
Joining the Virgin Islands National Park-led hike, happening every Friday through August, offers residents and visitors alike the chance to learn firsthand some of the island’s rich history and to experience the varied animals, insects, and flora that flourish on this south shore trail. One of the many benefits of the guided hike is the boat that meets the group at the bottom of the trail on Reef Bay, giving hikers a leisurely trip back to Cruz Bay via south shore waters.
The guided L’Esperance hike was introduced by the VINP more than a year ago as an alternative to the incredibly popular guided Reef Bay hike, which happens three times a week during high season. The two hikes are similar in length and difficulty, and both hikes include a boat ride back to Cruz Bay.
VINP Superintendent Brion FitzGerald hopes the L’Esperance hike will gain popularity, taking some stress off of Reef Bay, where the VINP is seeing erosion issues due to the sheer number of hikers that traverse the trail on a daily basis.
“I guarantee you’ll love L’Esperance,” said FitzGerald.
The hike begins at Centerline Road, just east of Catherineberg. As hikers descend the moderately easy trail, it’s not long before they encounter the ruins of the L’Esperance estate, which include a stone bridge, a few graves, and a great house that was used as a residence into the 20th century. Along the way, the VINP ranger leading the hike points out unique wildlife, like large termite nests in trailside trees and the hermit crabs that scurry among the stonework ruins.
Further down the trail, the ranger leads hikers to the island’s only baobab tree, believed to be more than 100 years old. Just beyond the tree, there’s an impressive vista overlooking the south shore and Ditleff Point. As hikers continue on down the trail, there’s a marked difference where the environment changes from moist tropical forest to dry forest; the lush greenery gives way to cacti and other scrub vegetation. This part of the trail is heavily lined with wild pineapple. Those lucky enough to be passing by when the plants are fruiting can taste the mild, citrus-flavored small yellow orbs that stand tall on a stalk in the middle of the plant.
The second set of ruins hikers encounter is Estate Sieben, where it’s not hard to envision the grand “welcoming arms” staircase at the great house ruins. There are several more sweeping south shore vistas as hikers make their way down to Reef Bay, where they swim, enjoy lunch, and relax as they await their boat ride back to Cruz Bay.
The fee to join this hike is $40 per person. To sign up, call the Friends of the VINP at 340-693-7275. For more information, visit www.friendsvinp.org.