La Soufriere Leeward Trail Clearing Report

Background

This report is a partial fulfilment of the GEF funded project to rehabilitate the La Soufriere Leeward Trail on St. Vincent.  No maintenance work was done on this trail for a number of years and in 2010 it was made worse with the passing of hurricane Thomas which totally devastated the trail. Huge trees were uprooted and blocked the trail, landslides took out sections of the trail which caused persons to use alternative route.  In 2013 further damage was done to the trail by the passing of a trough system that affected the whole island.  Despite these negative impacts the trail remained untouched, visitation was low because of the trail condition, shrubs and trees grew up on the trail way covered by vines thus making the trail impassable.  To get to the summit one had to bend down and go through dark vine tunnels amid obstacles of shrubs and dangerous vines for most of the way.  At the end of the tree line grass completely covered the trail past waist height with just a very narrow foot path which was barely visible almost to the top.

trail-covered-by-grass
Trail Covered By Grass

 

Trail Clearing

At a meeting on 5th September the stakeholders decided to implement work on 19th of September, to clear the trail.

A crew of 8 was decided on however one did not turn up on the first day and was left off.  The work was done with a 7 man crew in 126 man days.

Trail clearing began from the second ridge but was subsequently extended to the top, clearing the narrow trail that was barely visible of grass which covered it.  We decided to clear a path 4 feet wide in areas where possible; however in some areas this was exceeded while some parts were 4 feet was not possible as these were narrower.

A number of trees and shrubs had grown up on the trail and were covered with vines blocking the trail, these had to be cut in order to clear the trail way and open it to make the trail more visible.  This also will allow more sunlight to hit those once hidden areas thereby enabling plants that are not shade tolerant to emerge resulting with the regeneration of the original floral diversity of the trail.

Some trees/shrubs on the edge also had to be cut to eliminate the threat of vines to the trail, and to open up new vistas for viewing of the landscape that was not previously visible.  Birds once heard can now be seen and the visitor is exposed to the overall biodiversity of La Soufriere including some endemics.

Because the trail was not cleared from trees that had blocked it since 2010 hikers made alternative routes around these blockage, these were cleared and the trail rerouted to its original path.


a-section-of-the-trail-cleared-on-the-upper-slopes
A Section of the Trail Cleared on the Upper Slopes

 Major Obstacles

The major obstacles were the vines which were a tangled mass of Dioscorea alata (Wild yam), Mucuna urens (Horse eye), Ipomea tiliaceae, Passiflora laurifolia (Bell Apple), the tough woody Cordia curassavica (Black sage) that climb to the top of trees and shrubs strangling and in some instances killing them, blocking out the trail and many possible view points.  On the lower shrubs was the Dioscorea polygonoides (Earth power) and on the trail way the Smilax sp (Whisk) with its dangerous hard, thorny vine twisting through the lower shrubbery where it thrives.  As a result of no maintenance over a number of years the Wild yam had grown on the trail, the clearing revealed patches of their protruding tuners in some areas.

There were two sections after Resting Tree at the halfway sign where Gynerium sagittatum (Roseau) had taken over the trail and blocked it causing hikers to wind their way through. These were cleared and the trail restored to the original path.  This plant can be invasive if given the chance.

One honey bee hive was seen on a fig tree on the edge of the trail about three quarters of the way up, these could be dangerous but no one got bitten although I was attacked.

The entrance point was also blocked with Dalbergia ecastaphyllum which is a tough woody climber and a potential invasive.  This was also cleared.

a-mountain-of-vines-are-being-cleared-from-the-trail
A mountain of vines are being cleared from the trail

Conclusion

The trail was cleared from the beginning at the Wallilabou beach to the summit of La Soufriere with a seven man crew in record time.  This includes rerouting of the trail to the original path, clearing all obstacles in the way and making the trail more visible than it has ever been for a number of years.

Much more work is needed to improve the trail for easier hiking particularly on the steep slopes.  The control of water from the trail way is very crucial as water coming down slope can easily erode the friable soil which can cause gullies to develop and damage the trail.

A section of the trail cleared of vines
A section of the trail cleared of vines
A section of the trail cleared of vines
A section of the trail cleared of vines
La Soufriere Leeward Trail Clearing Report
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