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sunrise over chocolate hole

Sunday Morning Sunrise

Chocolate Hole, St. John US Virgin Islands (USVI)
Notwithstanding the Flash Flood Warning and the high probability of rain, my weather forecast system of looking out at the sky served me well and yesterday’s hike was rain free.

Last night however, it rained like crazy with thunder and lightning and high winds. So far this morning so good, but it sure looks like rain. Unless it looks better later on today, I’ll probably cancel my planned visit to Jost Van Dyke.

Being that I’m in the process of another book reprint for St. John Off The Beaten Track, I’ve been revisiting the island’s trails to check for changes since the last printing. I’ve also been concerned about trail conditions after the winds of Hurricane Earl and the flooding from Hurricane Otto. Following are reports from last week’s St. John trail hikes.

Francis Bay Trail
The Francis Bay Trail remains in good condition with the exception that part of the new boardwalk constructed for handicap access is now under water. This is undoubtedly due to the unusual amount of rain we’ve experienced lately and will correct itself in the coming months.

Maria Hope Road
The Maria Hope Trail is still in good condition even though there been no improvements or maintenance done on the trail by National Park contractors. The one good overlook has filled in with vegetation and although still providing views they’re not quite as outstanding as before.

Guinea Grass on the Tektite Trail

Guinea Grass (photo by Yelena Rogers)

Tektite Trail
Like the Maria Hope Road, the Tektite Trail remains in good condition despite lack of maintenance. The sections of trail passing trough fields of guinea grass are beginning to become overgrown and may be difficult to follow in the future if the trail does not continue to be well used by hikers.

L'Esperance Estate

L’Esperance Road
The L’Esperance Trail is also in good condition as are the L’Esperance and Seiban ruins cleared by volunteers last year. These estates, however are beginning to show signs of being reclaimed by bush if a campaign of maintenance by either contractors or volunteers is not initiated.

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Maria Hope Trail St. John US Virgin Islands

Mara Hope South Map

The Maria Hope Road runs from Maho Bay all the way to the Reef Bay Trail, however, with the construction of Centerline Road and the enormous amount of fill used to create it, access to the old Danish road from Centerline was rendered steep and difficult.

An alternative access to the northern section of the road now exists and as a matter of fact that section of the trail, from Centerline to Maho, is now an official National Park trail.

On the south however there is no such access and hikers using the southern section of the trail have been accessing it from a point further east on Centerline near the intersection of the Bordeaux Mountain Road. The access is steep and slippery so be careful.

The southern section of the trail is not at this time an official park trail and as such receives no maintenance other than improvements carried out by local hikers.

The highlights of the southern section of the Maria Hope road include access to the ruins of the Paquerau and Hope Estates, and passage through a beautiful dry forest environment. All along the trail we passed by beautiful examples of bay rum, guavaberry and pepper cinnamon, as well as large West Indian locust, genip and turpentine trees.

Maria Hope Trail

The Maria Hope Trail winds through a natural dry forest

St. John Trails: Maria Hope Trail

A stone retaining wall supports the lower side of this old Danish Road

Ruins of the Paquerau Estate

Pepper Cinnamon tree on the Maria Hope Road

Estate Hope, St. John Virgin Islands

Ruins of the Hope Plantation

Rollers used to crush cane stalks

gungalo

Gungalo

termite nest

termite nest

Golden Orb Spider

Golden Orb Spider

Although the road does eventually lead to the Reef Bay Trail, trail conditions below the Hope ruins area deteriorate and passage is very difficult.

On a recent hike I was shown a new and easier way to get on and off the trail at a point along the Bordeaux Mountain Road. (see map)

Maria Hope South St. John US Virgin Islands

Circular structure near the Hope Estate

We also discovered a circular stone structure about 20 feet in diameter and four to five feet tall in the vicinity of the Hope Estate, the purpose of which I have no idea.

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Maria Hope Ruins

Maria Hope Ruins

Just a few hundred feet off of Centerline Road in the vicinity of the Reef Bay Trail, lies the ruins of the Maria Hope Estate, apparently totally hidden in the bush until it was rediscovered by local hikers early in 2009.

Historically speaking these ruins have the distinction of being the site of the first sugar works on St. John.

The Maria Hope Estate was also the setting for the following story of murder and deceit.

The Story
We’ll begin our story in 1671, when the British kicked out all the Dutch settlers on Tortola. Lucas van Beverhoudt, a  Dutchman born in the Netherlands Antilles, was one of these previously successful planters and one of those unfortunates who were given their walking papers. (Not as unfortunate as the slaves who had been working his land, I might add here)

Von Beverhaut took his cane slips and whatever equipment he could carry and sailed to St. Thomas, where the Danes were welcoming foreign settlers and even offering religious freedom of sorts. Setting up shop again, he established St. Thomas’ first sugar works.

When the Danes claimed St. John as their own, Van Beverhoudt took up a plantation there, which he named Maria Hope, and established the first sugar works on that island as well.

Von Beverhaut died in 1728 and Maria Hope was taken over by one William Vessup.

Vessup subsequently stabbed Karl Henry Kuhlmann to death on St. Thomas over a land dispute. Wanted for murder Vessup fled the island in 1732 leaving the Maria Hope Estate abandoned when rebellious slaves took over the island of St. John.

While still on the lam from authorities on St. Thomas, Vessup was approached by messengers who led him to understand that his help in putting down the slave rebellion could lead to a government pardon.

Vessup put forth a plan to trick the rebels. He would lure the leaders aboard his ship with the promise of supplying them with badly needed guns and ammunition. He then planned to capture the rebel leaders and turn them over to the Danes. Vessup made contact with rebel leaders saying that he would supply them with guns ammunition and gun powder in return for slaves. The rebels reportedly offered him ten slaves in payment for ten barrels of powder.

With each side scamming the other and with the well deserved wariness and skepticism by both Vessup and the rebels, all deals fell through. No ammunition powder guns or slaves changed hands. The rebels did not fall into Vessup’s trap and Vessup remained a fugitive.

Vessup’s family remained in the Virgin islands, but under very poor circumstances.

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