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Cruz Bay
Thursday, June 13, 2024


One of St. Thomas' best known but neglected treasures is getting a lot of much-needed tender, loving care and is coming back to life.
The nature trail at Magens Bay was badly damaged in Hurricane Marilyn and has sat, basically bereft, ever since. That is, until somebody decided to do something about it.
Toni Thomas, a natural resource agent with the University of the Virgin Islands Extension Service, got the project in motion "about a month ago," she said, but she has moved fast.
Along with volunteers, she has had the help of Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg's Tree Restoration project, which has planted new trees all over the beach area. Donastorg said his office has donated rocks as well to contain the soil around the trees.
"We have a wonderful group of volunteers," Thomas said, "but it's a lot of work, too." Two volunteers, George Stark and Jack Bremer, appear at daybreak with their own tools to hack away at the overgrowth, and they also come every week to water the trees, she said.
Are the volunteers UVI students?
"Oh no, actually they are two senior citizens and, just recently, one teacher," Thomas said. The teacher, Dagmar Sigurdardottir, is a natural science professor at UVI.
Though the group is small, its members have accomplished a prodigious amount of work in a short time. It's to the point now where one could amble down the path but it's nowhere near finished, Thomas said.
She said the project has limited funding from a $60,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. With that she has been able to hire some of the Magens Bay regular crew, including Curtis Bouchard, who has worked with the volunteers to help clear the bush.
"They've been great," Thomas said. "They really know how to wield a machete."
Since the path had almost been obliterated through Marilyn, everything the volunteers come across is new to them.
"We don't even know what's there 'cause there's so much underbrush," said Sigurdardottir. "We came across an old trail guide, so that's a help." A new trail guide is in the works.
Most of the old trail markers are gone, so the workers are salvaging what they can and installing new ones. The trail winds through mangoes, a dry forest and along the edge of a mangrove lagoon, covering wildly varying flora and fauna.
"There's a lot of cultural history here, too," Thomas said. She thinks some of the artifacts dug up over a period of years are prehistoric, dating back to 1000 A.D. "Though, I've had some people doubt that," she said.
Thomas said she also has a "little grant from an urban forestry assistance program" which helps, as she hasn't gotten all the FEMA money yet.
"I want to clear the debris out of the arboretum when we get the rest of the funding," she said.
The trail was established in the late '70s by a UVI gymnastics team and the Division of Historical Preservation, and until Marilyn arrived in 1995, it was fairly well-tended. Until that time it was a popular location for school field trips through the arboretum, coconut grove and coastal forest. "And now, it can be again," Thomas said happily.

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