by Christina Smith
The National Parks, Rivers and Beaches Authority (NPRBA) has been moving mountains, or rather parts of it, and will soon be close to completing restoration work of the trail at La Soufriere.
On April 9, 2021 and for three weeks after, hot ash and lava fragments were belched out of La Soufriere, blanketing the mountain, trail and forest under tonnes of debris.
The NPBRA had the herculean task of clearing debris and re-establishing the La Soufriere Cross Country Trail, which runs for a little over three miles, in an effort to assist scientists and volcanologists with the monitoring of the volcano.
Park Ranger with the NPRBA, Sternly Walker told SEARCHLIGHT that the restoration work had to be dealt with in three phases and required collaborative assistance from the Forestry Department and the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO), and is being done under the guidance of fellow Park Ranger Erasto Robertson.
Walker highlighted the challenges facing the team during phase one which started in 2021 and lasted for about three months. He said they had to locate the path under loads of ash, fallen trees and gravel.
“It was very difficult because there were some areas where we were not able to identify where the trail was because in some areas everything looked the same, just brown. Ash and all the debris in front of you was very high, so it was difficult. So we had to cut and as we went along, we were able to identify the pathway.”
The gravel, he added, posed a huge problem for the chainsaw operators as the material dulled the chains and slowed the pace of the work.
After a short break, the team jumped back into the phase two of the restoration work which was to establish a temporary trail.
The work included installing drains and building steps so scientists could easily move equipment up the mountain. Phase two lasted several months, Walker noted and said the gravel once again was a hindrance to advancing the work, but the team was able to overcome.
In January, 2023 they entered into phase three. For this phase, they brought in reinforcements in the form of retired forestry workers, community members from Sandy Bay and additional NPRBA workers.
“For the third phase… the funds came from central government and this had to do with the complete restoration of the trail and we had retired workers, some of them would have worked on the trail before. So this work now involved further trimming because by this time you had plants overgrown you had the forest coming back. You have to do some trimming, build steps using logs and put in drains.”
Walker noted that the area above Jacob’s Well, located along the final mile to the volcano’s summit, is often affected by slippage and is just “rubble and gravel”. He explained it was a hard task for the team to build steps so they opted instead for a rope rail.
“It was hard work to take in those steel and to take up those cement over two miles.”
The team also set down markers leading to the volcano summit, painted in bright colours to guide those on the trail, as Walker noted poor visibility can lead to persons getting lost.
He referenced the incident which occurred back in May 2022, when a local hiker got lost on the mountain and an independent search team had to called in to rescue him.
“As you approach this summit, there’s a turn off to the left. The area was so changed some folks would go straight up close to the cliff of the crater and that area is very dangerous because of the high wind and it is easy to slide. And so it was so needful to put in these markers.”
Walker said right now the trail is “at its best”, adding it is around 98 per cent safe with some minor trimming work needed in the forested areas. He added there is still more restoration work to be done which includes erecting signage and building a bridge over a waterway that could potentially be blocked.
He added the picnic area at Bamboo Range also needs restoration work of the washroom facilities and the NPRBA is awaiting funds for this.
Walker emphasized that the site is still considered closed to the general public.