Tobago
Main Ridge Hiking Trails
Part 1

The Reserve may be old but most of the forest is young.

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Location: The Main Ridge recreation center located about 6 miles beyond the village of Roxborough argues it is the oldest forest reserve in the Western Hemisphere. Dominica and St. Lucia also make similar claims.

The Main Ridge covers almost two-thirds of the island, running like a spine on a northeast-southwest angle. In 1765 the French who perceived the importance of the forest as a major watershed mandated Tobago's reserve.

Due to a technicality--the rampage of Mother Nature-- Tobago definitely cannot claim to have the oldest protected plot of trees. Hurricane Flora destroyed most of her namesake on Tobago in 1963.

The lush, thick rain forest you see flourishing today is relatively young with few old trees; incredible testimony to the awesome, destructive force of hurricane winds.

One tree that survived Flora's fury is also one of the largest, a tree called a fiddlewood with an enormous 18-foot girth. The tree is hollow so you can actually crawl inside it near the base and stand erect. The fiddlewood is only 45-50 feet high; it's top was broken off.

The Main Ridge Reserve is totally user-friendly. On Sundays, many locals use the barbecue pits for picnics. Camping is not only permitted but encouraged. In fact, youngsters from all over the Caribbean sometimes come here on holidays and during summer. Weekdays, the park is practically deserted.

1. Gilpin Trail

Length: 3.5km. Time: between 2-3 hours. Difficulty: 2-3 for the first 2.5k. From about 2.5km. to 3.5km., the continual steep ascent rates a 3-4. Trailhead: The trailhead is at mile marker 1.25 on the road to Bloody Bay , the Parlatuvier Road .

This is the park's main hike, named after an old road that islanders used to walk to Bloody Bay. The true road eventually veers off after the first couple of miles; the remaining trail is newly cut and leads uphill to the main visitor center/picnic area. From the visitor center back to the starting point, the last leg is along open road. The distance covered in the forest itself is about 3.2km. (That is not a misprint: in Tobago, road distances are measured in miles, hiking distances in kilometers. There's talk of adopting a uniform system.)

Most people do not complete the full circuit but walk only to the first or second waterfall, then retrace their steps, which round trip takes about an hour.

In addition to a sign, the trail beginning is usually marked by a collection of a dozen or more walking sticks angling out of the ground like a patch of denuded forest. These sturdy sticks are provided since the trail is often slippery. The foresters themselves often wear rubber boots on this stretch; it's that muddy.

Curiously, the mud here comes in enough different colors that Carnival's mas players frequently visit the forest to get pigment for their costumes.

Next Page (The Gilpin Trail Part 2)