Volunteers helped complete the second phase of the Francis Bay boardwalk, above, expanding the accessible trail by more than 750 feet.
The Francis Bay boardwalk now includes a second viewing platform, above, for visitors to enjoy prime bird watching at the salt pond.
With the terrain of St. John making it difficult for persons with mobility issues to access many of the island’s beaches and trails, the newly expanded boardwalk at Francis Bay is a welcome opportunity.
Friends of Virgin Islands National Park first started the Francis Bay accessible trail three years ago, laying about 500 feet of wooden walkway with toe rails starting near the gravel parking lot and winding along the salt pond.
Thanks to skilled volunteers, the solidly-construction walkway offered level ground for people with mobility issues to safely enjoy a walk through the wooded area and the prime bird watching at the salt pond from a viewing deck.
Now people can use the trail to walk around the pond and almost all the way to the sandy shoreline of Francis Bay.
Recently, another team of skilled volunteers showed up in force to help Friends of VINP president Joe Kessler expand the boardwalk to more than double its length.
Starting on Monday, February 27, a team of between 10 and 15 volunteers showed up at Francis Bay to help saw, hammer and screw down more than 750 feet of additional walkway. Volunteers showed up every day at 8 a.m. and worked until about 4 p.m., putting in the last few screws on Monday afternoon, March 5.
Now someone can get out of their vehicle and use the level ground of the boardwalk to walk all the way to just steps from the Francis Bay shoreline at the eastern side of the beach.
“Huge thanks go out to our volunteers,” said Kessler. “These people worked really hard out here and we couldn’t have done it without their skilled help.”
Kessler even got some help from a few visitors, he explained.
“There were a few girl scouts from New Jersey who were on island with their mother visiting their grandmother,” said the Friends of VINP president. “Their grandmother has mobility issues and when they heard about the trail work being done, they came over and volunteered for a day.”
Volunteer Weldon Wasson helps hammer down the toe rail on the expanded Francis Bay boardwalk trail.
Beyond functional, the newly expanded walkway is quite beautiful as well, offering an additional salt pond viewing platform and enveloping a small tree.
“That is Cristina’s hugging tree,” said Kessler, referring to his wife, who also volunteered on the boardwalk trail project. “It was the only tree that we couldn’t wind around and we couldn’t cut it down, so we just circled it.”
Volunteers promised to erect a sign on the tree urging people to “hug me.” The hugging tree was described as a “Gregre” tree, according to volunteer Les Anderson.
“I’m not exactly sure of the name, but that is what I’ve always called it,” said Anderson. “I call it a Caribbean oak tree because it grows really big and is really hard. It’s an indigenous tree and you certainly don’t see as many as you used to.”
Kessler thanked the many volunteers who put in the hard work of completing the second phase of the Francis Bay accessible boardwalk as well as MSI Building Supplies, St. John Hardware, BBC Concrete, the Unilever Foundation, the Linden Family, David Witham, Chuck and Monica McQuaid and Rob and Mares Crane.