CROSSING PLACE :
A TREASURE OF A TRAIL
by Marsha Pardee Woodring
Middle Caicos. Cameo of the Caicos Cays. A silhouette of beauty, strength, grace and courage; traits so delicately carved with the passage of time. A place where history has emblazoned a trail with a tale of life long ago
The Crossing Place Trail bridges the past to the future for Middle Caicos, spanning time in natures splendor. This magnificent coastal trail has shared its treasures with many through the years, providing a means of livelihood and communication to the islands in-between. Now, once again, it will become an avenue for commerce and contact with the worlds beyond Middle Caicos.
The Turks and Caicos National Trust has undertaken a management role in assisting Middle Caicos in revitalizing a dream. A rugged, yet regal landscape personifies the past of the Crossing Place Trail, providing the perfect combination for inspiration in conserving and preserving a place for all to see. So come, follow me through history
A Trail Through Time
Historically, the Crossing Place Trail was a path that originated in the settlement of Lorimers, westward across the coastal headlands, to a point known as Crossing Place along the western shores of Middle Caicos. It was here that the early plantation pioneers of this land waited for the tides to subside so that they could cross-over the sandbars to the island of North Caicos. Some used the trail as a means for commerce, trading staples and goods with the farmers from North. Others traveled for the opportunities of education, as schools were limited to the very young on Middle. Many crossed with a desire for communication, with some more romantic communions resulting in a lifelong bond of love.
The chronicles of colonial history, a period beginning in the late 1700s, refer to the different settlements and plantations on Middle Caicos that were strung along the northern shores. Nongatown, Ferguson, Haulover and Stubbs Plantations to name a few. The three remaining settlements include Lorimers, Conch Bar and Bambarra, the latter said to have been named by survivors from the shipwreck Gambia; slaves captured from the Bombarra people in Africa. The loyalist era brought the slaves and their lifestyles that made it all possible, and left a trail of legacies in its wake. While the aristocracy with their drawn carriages and beasts of burden travelled the Kings Road, the slaves walked along the coastal footpaths. Later, the freemen still used the paths of old, being left without the luxuries of their owners and more modern modes of transport until recent years.
Even before that time, the coastal shores offered a place of prosperity for the islands original human inhabitants. Evidence of Lucayan sites on Middle Caicos date back to the early 1400s; many of these along the coast and/or where the coastline could have been in centuries past. Like the plantation day pioneers, the indians thrived from the bounty of the sea, and settled near to this valuable resource. History shows that in nearly every land conquered by humankind, the same territories are sought after time and again, the same paths, roads traversed year after year, the same resources regaled for centuries. In this manner, it is likely that the Lucayans first utilized these coastal trails with their ease of access to the offshore areas, other settlements and islands, followed by the loyalist and their descendents. And now, once again, we chose to follow the same trails.
Preserving a Coastal Path and Its Past
Like all of the islands of the TCI, Middle Caicos, with its breathtaking northshore vista, is gaining popularity in terms of coastal development. Although the progression is relatively slow in comparison to Providenciales, several large scale developments have already ear-marked major tracts for this purpose. The majority of this influence is considered positive growth for Middle Caicos, but there are concerns for ensuring that the coastal environment and its heritage remain intact.
In light of these concerns, the National Trust, through an initiative of the William H. Kaufman Foundation, has devised and acted upon a plan to secure access to the coastal ridge and parts of the old Crossing Place Trail. The plan, entitled the Middle Caicos Eco-tourism Project, incorporates the development of hiking and biking trails, interpretive information for caves and other areas, a nature trail guide, and marketing strategies to boost the eco-tourism trade. Augmented by the efforts of Operation Sustain Hope, a TCI Government project to aid the smaller islands, the project goals of establishing infrastructure and excursions for the tourist industry are well on their way.
First and foremost, government authorities were contacted with regard to ensuring that the coastal areas remained accessible for the publics enjoyment. Allocations were then made, via the Planning Department, for a 150ft setback (open area) from the shore zones slated for development. This effort assures that no building is permitted directly along the shore, enabling visitors to hike unencumbered along the coastal path. Although not 100% historically accurate, the majority of this area was traversed during the journey to Crossing Place in years past.
Furthermore, the Crown Lands currently not slated for development that were part of the old trail are in the process of being secured for the Trust Project to preclude future development infringing on the access to these areas. Prior to this project, several areas being developed were not required to provide for full coastal access. One such community, the Blue Horizon Resort that encircles the famous Mudjin Harbour and Cave has made provisions to enable all visitors to access this shore. Natural looking rock pathways, benches and overlooks have been provided for all that wander their way. With respect to this project, they have generously opened access through their own lands, so that a trail can continue along the true coastal path.
The trail for biking actually follows what is known as the old Bay Road, a coastal road which parallels the new paved road that runs from Conch Bar to Bambarra. Most of this road remains accessible to those who wish to use it, albeit, several sections have been blocked where new developments have arisen, requiring that riders return to pavement to complete the entire journey. Beautiful expanses of beach with excellent snorkeling opportunities are easily accessed from the trail, and protected through their status as public landings. Other beachfront areas are privately owned, but the Trust is hoping to negotiate easements and develop a continuous trail.
A second priority for the project was to find out more about the historical aspects of the Crossing Place Trail. A luncheon was held for the elders of the three settlements and afterwards they were asked about their own personal use of the trail and what they remember of tales told before them. This information was recorded on video and tape, and has become the start of yet another Trust endeavor, known as the Oral History Project. Excerpts from the interviews have been included in this and other articles on the history of Middle Caicos. The Trust hopes to continue this work to include stories from all the islands, so that future generations have a way to reflect on their proud past.
Blazing a Trail of Treasures
As with all projects of this nature, the first steps in blazing a trail require the assistance and expertise of the local community in deciding the wheres, what-fors and hows of the whats to be done. Many local enthusiasts shared their ideas as the original proposal was developed. In this scenario, the Trust was fortunate in that the William H. Kaufman Foundation not only had committed their financial assistance, but was one of the primary instigating forces behind the project directives. Another force was appropriations from Operation Sustain Hope, which coincided with the first phase of plans for project development.
The Middle Caicos Ecotourism Project proposal denotes two phases of development. The Priorities Phase ensures that the Crossing Place Trail and Caves are accessible and amenable to tourism activities and equitably, ensures that marketing materials and efforts are in place to promote the ecotourism trade. Phase II will follow with elements needed to enhance the trails, including shelters and benches, additional interpretive signs, guides and marketing materials. Funding is still needed to complete Phase II; please contact the National Trust for further information.
Phase I funding was secured through the William H. Kaufman Foundation in January of 1998. Once approved, artists Pamela Leach and Barbara Young were brought on board for their expertise in original artworks and designs for interpretive information. The Crossing Place Cameo emerged as the entity that would symbolize the historical nature and natural beauty that Middle Caicos conveys. An original artwork by Pam Leach, these handmade clay tiles grace all interpretive components along the trails, including directional signs and trail markers. The combined efforts of both women have resulted in a series of outstanding trail markers more appropriately defined as art than mere symbols or signs.
The first of these artworks can be seen upon arrival at the Middle Caicos Airport. Funds for an airport beautification project were allocated through Operation Sustain Hope. This program supported the construction of a stone wall that encircles a garden in progress to be filled with native plants. The National Trust Project aided in adding the finishing touches by sponsoring the Welcome sign and the stone columns on which it is mounted. Local stone master Cardinal Arthur and his team have provided the expert masonry for the projects. The combined effect of the splendid stonework walls, garden and natural looking sign is certainly appealing to all who arrive here.
Likely the most formidable task of the Crossing Place Project has been the clearance of the original trail. Since the advent of modern transport, most walking paths have been aborted in lieu of a comfortable ride. Some portions of the trail amenable to vehicular traffic have remained free and clear, but other sections have reverted to the thick native bush. Many long days have been spent toiling through the brush, clearing and removing the excess debris; a job that will never end for local experts Walter Hall and Ashton Harvey. Trail maintenance will be ongoing for these and other interested patrons, with support derived from the visitor fees. Cleanup of the windward beaches is also be a part of the trail program and will be tackled through the local school system. In this way, the project intends to not only involve the young, but enhance their awareness of the environment in a stimulating way.
Once the trails and signs were ready, a team of people were coordinated to put everything in place. Led by the trail clearance experts and job foreman Dennis Been, holes were dug, concrete poured and poles set. Several days were taken to accomplish the feat, with a job well done and a good time had by all. The Crossing Place Trail is ready for the next generation of adventures and pioneers!
Hiking the Headlands - Crossing Place Trail (CPT)
The CPT Hiking Trail extends from Conch Bar to a point just beyond Blowing Hole, then west to the Crossing Place. The trail varies in difficulty as it traverses ironshore coastal ridge, old inland roadway, or sections of the beach and tracks approximately 4.5 miles. A car park has been established near Norbellis Cove to facilitate those who prefer a shorter hike. A side trail has been cut adjacent to Indian Cave for access from the main path. Another offshoot of the trail will include a trek that triangulates a path to Juniper Hole at the Northwest extreme of Middle Caicos and back along the coast to the Crossing Place.
Interpretive elements includes a welcome sign in the form of a large map of Middle Caicos that highlights natural features seen along the shore. This sign is located at the T-junction intersection of the old Bay Road and the paved road overlooking the beach. This same junction acts as the starting point for both the Hiking Trail heading west and the Biking Trail heading east. A second map/sign has been devised for the car park area near Norbellis Cove, and is more detailed for the specifics of the Hiking Trail. Several directional signs have been placed in areas where options of side trails or detours are necessary. Other trail markers featuring the cameo design can be found along the way.
Based on an average walking rate of 2 miles/hour, a minimum of 4.5 hours is needed to complete the trail. Portions of the path are rugged ironshore and sand, requiring greater skill and stamina than needed on a leisurely walk and the breathtaking views and deserted beaches demand that one stops and spends some time. To complete the entire trail, a full day is suggested. Options include embarking on the trail at different intervals, such as hiking from Conch Bar with a pickup at Indian Cave or Mudjin Harbour, or strolling from Norbellis Cove down to the Blowing Hole and back. Tour packages can be customized to suit anyones preferences.
A Bike Along the Beach
The CPT Bike Trail extends from Conch Bar down to the Tiki Huts located on Bamberra Beach. Starting from the Welcome Sign described above in Conch Bar, the trail follows the old Bay Road, turning up at Pine Tree Turn to ride on the paved portion until reaching the turn off at Bambarra Beach. Stubbs Landing and Samual Landing are great rest and snorkel spots to be found along the Bay Road, while Kitty and Flamingo Ponds are nice birding havens heading up to Bambarra. A one-way ride is a little over 7 miles over fairly flat terrain. The interpretive elements on this trail are limited to the welcome at the beginning of the trail, directional signs at Pine Tree Turn and the Bambarra turn off, with intermittent markers along the way.
A biking enthusiast could make the round trip in two hours at a fast, steady pace, but the trail is designed for leisurely travel and frequent stops. The natural ambiance of the place provokes a stop and stay awhile attitude. For those feeling fit for the 14 mile ride, a half day may do, but a full day is suggested to include time out to lunch and maybe sail at Bambarra Beach. For the more relaxed, a one-way adventure can be arranged with a drop-off or pick-up at either end. Either way, a swim on the beach and a home-style local lunch is a must when travelling to Middle Caicos.
Coolin Out in the Caves
Conch Bar Caves are the most renowned with numerous underground caverns that wind and dip extensively. It is strongly advised that all visitors to the caves, without exception, are accompanied by a seasoned guide. Several local guides are on call for this purpose and arrangements are easily made. A haunt for bats and Indian bones, the local lore imparted on these tours certainly adds spice to the adventure.
Indian Cave, although not as extensive as the others, is certainly a site to see. A dramatic dome shaped ceiling has become an arbor of aerial roots for various types of fig trees. Legend has it that a white owl once lives here, while recent archaeological digs have surfaced indian potsherds as well as bones of several extinct creatures.
Funds from Operation Sustain Hope have helped to make both cave areas more accessible and amenable to the visiting public. Within Conch Bar Cave, several areas deemed treacherous for the average laymen have been surfaced and stabilized, while the spray paint graffiti artists have been demortalized. A new rock walk entrance to Indian Cave has also been added. Interpretive signs for both caves were contributed through the Middle Caicos Ecotourism Project.
Nature Tales for Trails
A nature trail guide is also being prepared to augment the Middle Caicos adventure. The Crossing Place Cameo graces the cover of this booklet/souvenir. Trail maps will be incorporated along with a narrative of natural wonders to notice along the way. Birds, plants and trees will be highlighted for the naturalist, while historians can enjoy the anecdotal tales of the elders. Further tidbits on cave and Lucayan lore will be incorporated. A list of activity options, contact numbers, and home-grown recipes complete this guide of a tour.
In Search of the Crossing Place Cameo
So how does one access this great adventure? Two modes of transport to Middle Caicos are available to get you there. Daily flights are available through all the local charter airlines, but are best prearranged to ensure timing and availability. Boat trips to Middle Caicos can be booked through your local tour desks or by calling the various water sports operators direct. The best of both worlds can be achieved through a combination of both aerial and water tours to and from Middle Caicos.
Package tours with prearranged options can include the following adventures:
· A full day of hiking and exploring the headlands and beaches of the Crossing Place Trail. A picnic style local lunch can be provided with taxi service to various trail access points. Indian Cave is accessible via taxi or can be reached via a small detour on the hiking trail. Visits to Conch Bar Cave can also be arranged with a guide.
· A full day biking excursion from Conch Bar to Bambarra and back or further on to the settlement of Lorimers can be arranged. Bikes can be obtained from the local Sports Shack in Conch Bar and arrangements can be made for dropoffs/pickups if customers dont prefer a roundtrip ride. Provisions can also be made to pack a picnic lunch or have it catered at a selected site. Snorkeling gear is also recommended for stops along the way.
· A combination package that includes some hiking and/or biking, yet with a more leisurely pace in mind whereas one spends half a day exerting energy and the rest in a relax mode. For instance, a morning bike ride from Conch Bar to Bambarra Beach with a few snorkel stops along the way or hike out to Blowing Hole and back. Lunch is catered at the beach, with an afternoon of R & R in the shade or playing in the sun and sand. Perhaps an hours sail on one of the local sloops would do and/or maybe a trip to the Caves before heading home.
· For those less inclined to the more strenuous activity options, arrangements can be made to transport you to a few of the more spectacular viewing spots and points of interest in air-conditioned comfort. Lunch can be provided in house, as the local restaurant fairs are served at the chefs dining room table.
Regardless of personal preferences, a variety of exciting adventures awaits on Middle Caicos. If one prefers to just drop in to Middle for a day and explore the options once there, taxis are readily available and check the airport for guests when they see the flights come in. Information on the trail and contacts for cave guides, taxis, lunch options, and bike rentals will be posted at the District Commissioners office in Conch Bar. Although not to discourage this more spontaneous alternative, keep in mind that your options may be more limited if not prearranged. Check you local tour desk for information and brochures regarding both aerial and water transports, as well as operators arranging prepackaged tours. Further information can also be found through the Tourist Board and the Turks and Caicos National Trust.
The Turks and Caicos National Trust would like to thank the many people that have supported the Middle Caicos Ecotourism Project in innumerable ways. First, Sara Kaufman Foundation for instigating the project and The William H. Kaufman Foundation for granting the financial backing to get Phase I off the ground. Many thanks to the Government officials in Ministries of Natural Resources and Planning that acknowledged the need and allocated the lands for preservation. The Middle Caicos District Commissioner; Mrs. Dottis Arthur and her staff should also be commended for their coordination of Operation Sustain Hope programs with the Trust project. Mr. Walter Hall and Ashton Harvey, who have reopened the trail and will keep it accessible, your efforts are much appreciated. Many thanks also to Dennis Been, Cardinal Arthur, and their crews for the
excellent work. The support from the Witts of Blue Horizon Resort includes access through their development, shipping of materials from Provo, miscellaneous supplies, advise and assistance. Thanks Sara Kaufman, Ed Bennett, Pam Leach, Barbara Young, Kathleen Wood, and Mark Woodring for all your voluntary help too. Last, but certainly not least, we would like to thank the community of Middle Caicos for supporting the ideals of the Middle Caicos Ecotourism Project; to conserve public access to the Crossing Place Trail and coastal lands. We know that all others that have the chance to visit Middle Caicos will thank you for sharing your incredible world with them.
The Middle Caicos Ecotourism Project is administered through the Turks and Caicos National Trust, Director Ethlyn Gibbs Williams and managed by Project Coordinator Marsha Pardee Woodring. The purpose of the Trust is to promote the conservation and preservation of wildlife, lands, coral reefs and marine resources, and places of historical interest and importance throughout the islands for the benefit and enjoyment of all. Established as a statutory body in 1992 by the TCI Government to safeguard the islands, the Trust is a non-profit, privately funded conservation organization. Support is derived through its members as well as the assistance of international conservation organizations and TCI Government allocations. With these combined efforts, cooperation and support, the Trust is striving to attain a mutual and balanced respect for the natural and historical heritage of the past and the need for economic growth that will allow the Turks and Caicos Islands to remain Beautiful by Nature. The Middle Caicos Ecotourism Project is yet another grand example of what our combined efforts can do.