Upper Rio Grande Valley
The communities of the Rio Grande Valley are nestled between the Blue Mountain and the John Crow Mountain ranges. Further up the valley (above Fellowship) where the mountain ranges are closer together, the area is particular lush and beautiful with numerous streams and waterfalls. The biological diversity here is very high as the ecosystems of the two mountain ranges are quite different because the geology of the Blue Mountains volcanic and metamorphic and the John Crow Mountains are sedimentary (mainly limestone). Further, this area is the main habitat for the endemic giant swallowtail butterfly (Pterourus homerus also known as Papilio homerus) – the largest butterfly in the Western Hemisphere
This area could be considered the cultural center of the National Park as these communities include Moore Town, the major village of the Windward Maroons (the others being at Charles Town and Scots Hall). The Windward Maroons are the direct descendants of the Taino and Africans who ran away to the mountains rather than stay as slaves first to the Spanish and later to the British. Many people within the Upper Rio Grande Valley are of Maroon descent. Millbank is the last in a chain of villages running up the Rio Grande Valley, and the location of one of the BJCMNP Ranger Stations established in an old Forestry Department building. The Park and managers, JCDT/Green Jamaica have a long-standing relationship with these communities, particularly in Millbank where one of the National Park’s original Local Advisory Committees (LAC) was established. That committee no longer exists but a community-based organization – the Bowden Pen Farmers’ Association (BPFA) was formed by many of the community members who had participated in the LAC. The CBO is called Bowden Pen because this was the village beyond Millbank, however no-one lives there any more although many people farm in the area, and the BPFA have an eco-tourism accommodation there called Ambassabeth.
Ambassabeth can accommodate up to 25 persons in nine eco-friendly cabins, comfortably furnished, with facilities for dining, meetings/lectures, games or just relaxing. The facility is retro-fitted with solar lights and a solar water heater, the water is gravity fed from one of the community’s springs. In close proximity is the famous Cunha Cunha Pass Trail, one of the oldest trails in the island. A must for anyone getting to know the Blue Mountains is to hike this trail and stay at least one night at Ambassabeth.
You can relax by bathing in the rivers, or be more active and take an educational or bird-watching tour but whatever your activity, food is a must – and its very good at Ambassabeth. Focusing on good old time Jamaican cooking with “food” (boiled yam, dasheen and green bananas) not rice.
On special occasions such as the “Ancestral Memories” – the Emancipation Day celebrations hosted by the Bowden Pen Farmers Association on August 1st, you may have the chance to savour not just jerk pork but rather jerked wild hog caught in the forests up in the mountains outside the National Park.
Cunha Cunha Pass Trail
The Cunha Cunha Pass is a Maroon trail across the north-eastern Blue Mountains. It is an access route through the hillside districts of northern St. Thomas, from Hayfield to Bowden Pen and on to other districts in the Upper Rio Grande Valley, Portland. The trail is one of the most famous trails across the Blue Mountain and is widely used by residents and visitors alike. After the Peace Treaty was signed between the Maroons and the English, the trail was used by community members to go to market in Port Antonio. This use as a market trail continued for many years until the coast road connecting Morant Bay, St. Thomas to Port Antonio, Portland was built. Hence, close relationships developed between the two communities resulted in families with relatives at either end.
The Bowden Pen Farmers’ Association (BPFA) restored the Cunha Cunha Pass Trail (with funding from the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica and assistance from the BJCM National Park Rangers and JCDT). It is a component of the community-based ecotourism opportunities managed by the BPFA. A case study regarding the development of this project indicated that members acknowledged the work of the BJCMNP staff in educating them about conservation and the need to find more environmentally sustainable income generating activities (Bedasse, 2004).
The BPFA has received funding and assistance from the Forest Conservation Fund, GEF Small Grants Programme and the Jamaica Social Investment Fund to enhance the accommodations inclusive solar water heaters and electricity from photo-voltaic panels.