The Mastic Trail
Most of Grand Cayman's forests were logged to build
When Francis Drake's fleet of ships sailed through the Cayman Islands in 1586, the Caymans still were densely forested with mahogany, West Indian cedar and other giant hardwoods.
"So full of woods as it can grow" reads one of the ship's logs, a remarkable description considering how treeless the islands are today.
On Grand Cayman, all of the woodlands were removed from the island's western half by the beginning of the 20th century as settlers scalped the landscape to build homes and ships for themselves, then sold the excess lumber for export.
Fortunately, Grand Cayman's eastern half proved more difficult to clear cut. There, it was necessary to drag out a tree for a mile or more over a sharp limestone and dolomite terrain that put even the craggy spires of "Hell" to shame. The logging that did occur was done on a more selective basis.
Ironically, a century's old woodcutter's path that was built to help deforest the eastern end has become a part of the Mastic Trail, a 2.3-mile nature walk that penetrate's the heart of Grand Cayman's most pristine, interior woodlands.
The Mastic Trail is named after the mastic tree, a prized hardwood which has almost vanished. However, a splendid example of this impressive tree is located about mid-way along the trail in one of the densest, least disturbed forest sections. It's a rare glimpse of Cayman the way it used to be.
The Mastic area, also called the Mountain, covers about 1,000 acres. It is the largest contiguous area of old-growth woodland in the Caymans and one of the few remaining tracts of dry, tropical low elevation woodlands in the Caribbean.
The Grand Cayman National Trust has been able to purchase and protect only part of the Mastic region; it hopes eventually to be able to acquire the rest.
The Mastic Trail, which is well laid out and quite easy to follow in most places, is open to the public during daylight hours. Besides hardwood forest, the 2-1/2 to 3 hour trek also highlights thick mangrove swamp, agricultural land and, depending on the time of year, the opportunity to see both Cayman and Cuban parrots, West Indian woodpeckers, the Caribbean dove (which is seen only in undisturbed areas), butterflies, frogs and lizards.