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The Last Trail Bandit Guide to the Hiking Trails of St. John

The Last Trail Bandit Guide

Interview with Bob Garrison, the Trail Bandit:

What was the philosophy of making a St. John map in the first place?
The only recent maps of St. John were the USGS topo maps which were not updated very often and did not show any hiking trails, the National Geographic map which showed few trails and was inaccurate in places and the map passed out by the NPS which was a poor excuse for a hiking map but did show some trails. After I had visited St. John a few times I realized that there was far more out there than shown on these maps. I decided that I could learn a little about map making and do a better job. My map had to be accurate, give more information and stand up better than the others I had seen.

How the maps were created?
I bought a GPS receiver and hiked the trails and drove the roads to record GPS tracks for all. I discovered the wonderful map of St. John that was published by P.L. Oxholm in 1800. His map showed roads and trails that I did not know about. Using his map and aerial photographs I was able to locate most of the roads he showed and many are still in good shape even after over 200 years. Those old engineers knew how to build a road that would last. I purchased a set of negatives that the USGS topo maps were printed from and used them to get the elevation contours, shoreline, and stream bed locations. I added the trail and road locations that I had recorded and made my first map. I now know that my first way of doing things was not the easiest way to do this.

What is the history of the various map editions
My first map was printed in 2004. I used the USGS data for the roads as they were shown on the 1983 revision of their map. I also did as the USGS had done and only showed the part of St. John that is west of Hurricane Hole. It also showed only the main trails that were on the NPS map. The size of the map was 12″ x 14″ and folded up to fit in your pocket. One problem with the NPS map was that it turned to mush if it got wet. I used a water proof paper. This was a vast improvement over the NPS product.

In 2006 I reprinted the first map, adding a few more trails and updating the roads from aerial photos. I had this map printed in a larger format of 17″ X 21″. I also learned about doing maps in vector format as opposed to treating a map like a photograph. This simplified the layout process and made a better quality product.

In 2008 I designed a map that was acceptable to the NPS so that it would be allowed to be sold in the Visitor’s center. The company thet runs the visitor’s center, Eastern National, ordered 5,000 of these maps and I oversaw the printing. These maps were for sale until 2013 when Rafe Boulon and others had them pulled from the store because the map showed things that didn’t want the public to know about. To the best information I can get, they only sold about half of the maps and I guess the rest were thrown away. This map showed the whole island and was printed in a 14″ X 24″ size. The NPS redid this map to remove a number of trails that they objected to and started selling them in the visitor’s center in early 2014. Sadly, they used cheap paper that won’t last long in the rain. Sometimes it rains on St. John. At least there is a decent map available in the Visitor’s Center.

In the 2010 edition of my map I showed the whole island and included many of the hidden old roads that are out there as dashed red lines. The roads were updated by walking on the new roads with my GPS and also from aerial photos. This edition was printed in a 16″ X 26″ size.

What’s new, what’s changed in the Last Trail Bandit Map
In March of 2014 I had “The Last Trail Bandit Guide to the Hiking Trails of St. John, VI” printed. There are more of the “hidden” trails shown and 33 of them are numbered and short descriptions are printed on the back of the map. GPS tracks are available for these trails and can be downloaded from www.trailbandit.org for free. If you enjoy exploring, these 33 trails will give you a good start. There are many more things to find out there. This last map is printed in a 20″ X 34″ format. The larger format was chosen because the dashed red line trails showed up better and my eyes are not as good as they used to be so bigger helped.

When will it be available?
The 2014 map is available now and I will be shipping them starting in mid April.

How can they be ordered?
Send a note to; Bob Garrison, P.O. Box 394, Henniker, NH 03242. The price of the map is $3.00 each, Post Paid. I accept cash or checks. Don’t forget to include the mailing address for where you want the map sent. If you are leaving for St. John in a week and want a map asap, send an e-mail to rgarrison@mcttelecom.com and I will send the map and trust you for the $3.00. Again, be sure to tell me where to send the map. Those who want to buy the maps in quantity for resale, etc. can contact me for pricing.

Why is it called the last Trail Bandit Map?
There is not much more I can do on St. John and I have grown tired of the fight. The Park is being run by “Protection Rangers”, also known as Cops or Goons with Guns. They do very little to help a tourist get to know the park or give information. They ARE IN CHARGE and their ticket pad is never far from their hand. Ever since Superintendent Mark Hardgrove retired, they have been deleting hiking trails from the park by enforced neglect. It is sad to watch and I choose not to watch. Remember, the National Parks belong to the people. The Parks are to be maintained so that people can come visit them and enjoy the experience. The Park Service is supposed to maintain the place and preserve the old buildings, roads, trails, etc. for the enjoyment of future generations. If you look around Virgin Islands National Park you can judge how good a job they are doing. It is not supposed to be a retirement home for Superintendents.

Are you sure? One never knows…
I am pretty sure this is the last edition. I will have all the files necessary to print the map posted on my web site soon. Eventually, I hope some other Bandit will take over the job.

Trail Bandit Map

St. John Live Music Schedule

Aqua Bistro
Steven Sloan
5:30 – 8:30
340-776-5336

Castaway’s
Mikey P
9:00
Dance Party
11:00
340-777-3316

Barefoot Cowboy Lounge
T-Bird
7:00 – 9:00
340-201-1236

Cinnamon Bay
Eddie Bruce
6:30 -8:30 – Drumming
340-776-6330

High Tide
Mikey P
5:00 – 8:00
340-714-6169

Island Blues
Brother Nature
8:00
340-776-6800

Morgan’s Mango
Lauren
6:30 – 9:30
340-693-8141

Ocean Grill
Rascio on Steel Pan
6:30 – 9:30
340-693-3304

Rhumb Lines
Erin Hart
7:00 – 10:00
340-776-0303

Shipwreck Landing
Tropical Sounds
6:30 – 9:30
340-693-5640

Skinny Legs
Chris Carsel
6:00 – 9:00
340-779-4982

Spyglass
James Milne
6:00 – 9:00
340-776-1100

Virgin Fire
Aussie Guitars
The David T Carter Duo
6:00 – 9:00
340-779-4982

St. John Weather

Scattered showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 76. East wind 16 to 20 mph. Chance of precipitation is 40%. New precipitation amounts of less than a tenth of an inch possible.

 

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St. John Off The Beaten Track Overlook

St John Trails: Brown Bay Spur
View From More Hill
Following the ridge

There are some really spectacular views to be had from the many overlooks we have here on St. John. Some are easy to get to, like the popular Trunk Bay Overlook. Some aren’t so easy, but getting there is half the fun. If you want to personally experience the above overlook from More Hill, you can, but as I already said, “it ain’t easy”.

I haven’t been out there since April of 2010 and I imagine the trail hasn’t gotten any better, unless there are some determined hikers out there that have continued to improve the trail. If you want to find it, better bring a GPS and some clippers and be prepared for some catch ‘n’ keep along the way. The trail is marked as the red outlined number 23 on the Trail Bandit Map, which can be downloaded free or purchased by going to the Trail Bandit’s website

Click here for more information about this “St. John Off The Beaten Track” trail

St. John Live Music Schedule – Wednesday 11/14

Aqua Bistro
Rascio on Steel Pan
6:00 – 8:00
776-5336

Castaways
Flip Flop Rock
8:00
777-3316

Coconut Coast
Rich Greengold
5:30 -7:00
776-6944

Cruz Bay Prime
Sambacombo
7:00 – 10:00
693 -8000

High Tide
Mikey P
8:00 – 11:00
714-6169

Sun Dog Cafe
Wednesday Night Jam
Lauren & Mark Wallce
7:30-10:30
244-9713

See Weekly Schedule

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St. John Nostalgia: Cruz Bay Branch of Chase Manhattan Bank 1965

St. John USVI branch of Chase Bank 1965
Cruz Bay Branch of Chase Manhattan Bank 1965

Cruz Bay, St. John US Virgin Islands (USVI)
It wasn’t until 1958 that St. John had its own bank. Before that year, people had to go over to St. Thomas to do their banking. Largely through the efforts of St. John administrator, George Simmonds, and Senator Julius Sprauve, the first Virgin Islands senator from St. John, the West Indies Bank and Trust Company was persuaded to open a branch on St. John. Senator Sprauve sweetened the pot by offering rental space to the bank at a reasonable rate.

In 1962, The West Indies Bank and Trust Company was taken over by Chase Manhattan Bank.

The photograph above was taken in 1965 and was provided by Bob Garrison, aka the Trail Bandit.

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St. John’s Trail Bandit and the Henniker’s Annual Pumpkin Festival

Trebuchet Launching Pumpkin at Target

Photo by Bill Wakeham

Bob Garrison, better known on St. John as the “Trail Bandit,” has produced the ultimate St. John Trail Map, a must have for any resident of St. John as well as for anyone visiting the island, hiker or not. The maps are available on St. John or can be downloaded or purchased on Bob’s website: trailbandit.org. Back in April of this year, I published an interview of Bob, which our readers may find interesting: Trail Bandit Interview Every year on the last Saturday in September, Bob hosts “Henniker’s Annual Pumpkin Festival” at his airport in Henniker New Hampshire. People arrive from all over, some in their own planes. When weather permits there’s an Air Show where, according to Bob, “People do silly things in airplanes.”

Bob’s Plane – Italian Fighter-Trainer, Symmetrical Wing

Trail Bandit Airport Henniker, NH
Trail Bandit Airport – 3000 foot paved runway with lights

biplane
biplane parked at hanger

There’s a big barbecue, homemade pies, and hard and soft beverages. Bob personally prepared and marinated 120 pounds of chicken for the event. Mary brought her apple pies, but because of dangerous cross winds she didn’t fly them in herself as she normally does.

Trail Bandit and Mary
Bob “Trail Bandit” Garrison and Mary, the Trail Banditess

Autumn Colors at Airport

Barbecue

The highlight of the day is the trebuchet pumpkin launch. First Bob grows the pumpkins. Then on the day of the festival he sets up the trebuchet. An old wrecked automobile is fork-lifted down the field about two hundred yards from the trebuchet to serve as a target.

Trebuchet

Ammunition

Pumpkin in flight

The trebuchet is armed using the force of about five or more people using a line to raise th 800-pound concrete counterweight. The trebuchet arm is then secured by the trigger mechanism and the pumpkin loaded into it’s pouch. Someone is chosen to pull the trigger and the pumpkin flies off to it’s target at a speed of 69 mies an hour. (Someone was there with a radar gun to verify the speed)

What FUN!!!

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Trebuchet

Trebuchet
Catapult New Hampshire Style
Catapult Virgin Islands Style

In response to yesterday’s blog about the traditional Virgin Islands slingshot, my good buddy, Bob, “the Trail Bandit” Garrison wrote:

I liked your catapult story. Up here in the Nawth, we are better armed. Attached are a couple of pictures of the New Hampshire catapult that I built. Come to Henniker, NH on the last Saturday in September. I put on the best, free, chicken barbecue around. Lunch is at noon, pumpkins will be hurled. And if it is a nice day, people will be doing silly things in airplanes.
I hope all is well.
Bob

By the way, Bob’s trebuchet can hurl a 13-pound pumpkin more than 1/10 mile (600 Feet) and “they hit hard”

A trebuchet or trebucket (from the French: trébuchet) is a siege engine that was employed in the  Middle Ages either to smash masonry walls or to lob projectiles over them and into the castle under siege…read more from Wikpedia

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St. John Trails: Interview with Bob Garrison “The Trail Bandit”

Tell us a little about yourself.
I was self employed for about 30 years with an electronics design and small scale manufacturing business here in Henniker, NH. About 10 years ago I got sick of filling out government forms and paying taxes for the privilege of hiring people, so after finishing the last contract, I closed the doors, and retired. People didn’t believe me, so I had the work phone disconnected. It took a while, but they finally have forgotten about me and I am retired. If I had the money, I would have retired when I was 20, but I didn’t.

How is it that you originally decided to come to St. John and make a trail map?
I first went to St. John in 1965 because my parents had gone there and liked the place. On my first few visits I did the usual tourist stuff, and, the snorkeling was superb. After a few visits, I started to venture out on more of the hiking trails. The map that the NPS gives out has never been worth much and for a new visitor to use it to find his or her way around, it is almost useless. Also, over the years, trails were not maintained and the NPS solution was to erase them from their map when they became overgrown. GPS technology had become available at reasonable prices and armed with a hand held GPS receiver, it was possible to accurately map the roads and trails. How hard can it be to make a map? Well, when I started, it was harder than it is now, and I didn’t know anything so I made the process more difficult than it had to be. My initial map was made in 2004 and was pretty good for a first effort. I had 9000 of them printed. The trail map bug had gotten me. I published an improved edition of the St. John hiking map in 2006. In 2008 I designed a version of the map for the Park Service, that shows only the approved hiking trails and that map is sold at the Park Visitor’s Center in Cruz Bay. I am almost finished with what will probably be the final edition of my St. John hiking map. I will include not only the approved hiking trails but will also show a lot of old Danish roads and trails that are not maintained or approved, but are great fun to explore. I hope other hikers will continue helping to keep the trails open.

What was the condition of the trails and the park when you first arrived?
When I first came to St. John, the trails were in pretty good shape. Over the years, the trails were neglected and many got so overgrown that you couldn’t even find them any more. In 1978, I went down the L’Esperance Road with a couple of friends. It was hard going, and early in the hike, one of my friends said “What we need here is a machete”. About 200 feet further along the trail, there was a machete lying on the ground. It was even fairly sharp. With this newly acquired weapon, we were able to make it all the way to Reef Bay. The catch-n-keep had torn our skin and clothes, but we made it. Some years later, I once again tried to follow the L’Esperance Road. It was impassable, and in places it had disappeared. I bought a machete and started to clear a path on the road. Of course, there was no way I could complete the task in one trip, so every time I returned to St. John, I cleared some more. Over the years, I finally had a path all the way to Reef Bay that people could walk. At some point, someone came in with a tractor, and removed the huge fallen trees that I couldn’t cut and widened out the first 2/3 of the trail. I don’t know who did that work, but I thank them. Gradually, trail clearing became sort of an obsession and I located and cleared many old trails and roads.

What contact have you had with with park officials and local hikers?
The Park officials became aware of my work when I published my first map. The chief ranger at that time was enraged, and called me at home and screamed “YOU CAN’T JUST MAKE A MAP!” I tried to explain that the first amendment to the US Constitution has a few words to say about the freedom of the press. I met with members of the Park staff at a public meeting and discussed what I wanted to do, and they essentially said no. The meeting was attended by a reporter who published a story about what was discussed. My first contact with local hikers was on a hike down what has become the Maria Hope Trail. The trail was badly overgrown and as we approached the lower end, the brush was so thick we couldn’t get through. They said that at this point, they scrambled down the hill to the gut to reach the road. They were armed with rose bush clippers and I had my machete. I suggested that if I went first, we could get through. I hacked and they dragged brush away. The first decent of the Maria Hope trail in recent times had been done. A number of the hikers were amazed at how well a sharp machete works and became converts. I have had many great hikes with the local hiking groups. I have noticed that there are some who want to keep their trails and discoveries a secret and I have left a few trails off the map at their request. These were trails in remote areas where I didn’t think many would want to go anyway. No map ever shows everything.

Were they cooperative?
The Park service has, in general, done it’s best to stop my work.  I spent a lot of time trying to get the old roads and trails back on the NPS map, declared legal trails again and hopefully, maintained. There was one ranger in particular, who, if he responded at all, would have a long list of “what MIGHT be required” for a particular trail officially recognized. It “MIGHT” be required to have an archeologist and a rare plant expert sent down from the States to survey the proposed trail. There was no money available for that. The local staff experts were way too busy to be able to look at new trail or ruins. After several years of  fighting for these trails, my learning more about NPS rules, and a change of leadership at VINP, some progress was made. First, a temporary superintendent put a stop to all the “MIGHT BE REQUIRED” conditions, and the present superintendent has made huge strides in getting VINP back in shape. Now a number of the old trails have been officially reopened.

What trails have you worked on?
I started, as I mentioned above with the L’Esperance road. After that came the Tektite trail, the Cabritte Horn spur, the Europa Point trail, the Tamarind Tree trail, the Water Catchment trail, the connector from the Water Catchment to the Caneel trail, the Great Sieben trail, the trail down to Par Force ruins from the Reef Bay Great House area and the trail up to America Hill. All of these are now officially recognized by the Park Service. There have been many other trails that I and others have worked on enough to get through but these aren’t cleared to any standard, and are not at this time recognized by the Park Service.

Which currently unofficial trails would you most likely want to see adopted by the park and why?
I would like to see the southern extension of the Maria Hope trail be cleared and officially reopened. It is a beautiful road and passes the ruins of the Paqureau and Hope Estates. This would require making a short section of new trail to connect with the top of the Reef Bay Trail, as the original trail bed has been destroyed by the building of Centerline road. This would make the Reef Bay Hike a loop hike.     I would like to see the trails out to Turner Point reopened as it is beautiful out there and the eastern part of VINP is currently mostly unused as are no cleared trails or official access.    The area out by Camelberg Peak is a beautiful forest with old roads and is currently little visited. A cleared trail there would make a nice loop hike with the L’Esperance road.  Mary Point has old trails, beautiful views, but is currently badly overgrown with catch-n-keep and painful to visit.

How do you find old roads?
Many of the old roads that I have found are shown on the Oxholm 1800 map of St. John. I have also used aerial photographs taken back in 1954. I built a 3D viewer that was very helpful in finding old roads on these photos. Many times, if you just hike through the woods you will come across parts of old roads. Sometimes they quickly disappear and other times, they can be followed a long way. Unfortunately, many of the best of the old roads have been destroyed by modern road building.

Do you make new trails?
No. There are roads and trails going everywhere on St. John. The old roads were designed and built by people who knew what they were doing. St. John is so steep that most of the old roads are built up on the down hill side, with stone walls. These roads have existed for 200 years or more. If a new trail were to be built, similar construction methods would be needed. This would be more work and expense than would be worthwhile. There are plenty of existing, well built, roads and trails out there. They just need clearing and maintenance.

Have you donated any money for trail  improvements?
Yes. One of the arguments for not opening any new trails, expressed by the Park Service, was that there is no money available to maintain the trails. I started a Trail Maintenance Fund that is available for that purpose. The VINP is in charge of the fund. Hopefully, those of you who like to hike the trails, but don’t have time to do trail work, will contact the VINP superintendent and donate some money to help hire others to do the work. I gave the artwork for the trail map to the Park Service. $1.00 from the sale of every map they sell goes to the trail maintenance fund.

Tell us about the new map work in progress?
The map I am working on will probably be my last one for St. John. I will include most of the old roads and trails I know about. Some are great and others don’t amount to much. They are there and people who like to explore may enjoy them. I will put the location of all the trails on my web site as .GPX tracks. Those who are interested can load any track onto their GPS receiver and accurately follow the path. My web site also has the St. John map available to upload to your GPS as an accurate base map, showing all the trails, etc. I will put a list of some of the trail head waypoints on the web site.

How can people obtain your maps?
My maps are available at a number of stores on St. John. The Park approved version of my map is for sale at the Visitor’s Center. I also sell my maps and mail them to people. The cost for the printed maps is listed on my web site.  www.trailbandit.org The web site has all the maps available for free download and there is other information there too. I will be updating the web site soon.

Anything else?
It has been sad to watch VINP decay over the years. Many who work for the Park seem to think that their employment is some sort of a welfare program. It is too bad that there are so many employees who can get away with doing as little as possible. It would be far better to hire contractors do the work because a contractor does a specific job and gets paid when it is completed. Park employees have been getting paid but in many cases, they haven’t done much work. Many on the staff are content with the way things have always been. I have been pleased and encouraged by the changes that Mark Hardgrove has made and the improvement in the condition of the Park since he came. Hopefully the next superintendent will keep up the good work.

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