Ok folks, so we concluded Part 1 of our island update over at Caneel Bay on the North Shore. As I’m sure many of you know, Caneel took a major hit during Hurricane Irma and then again during Hurricane Maria. I haven’t been able to tour the property personally (they are not allowing people on site), but I have viewed it extensively via boat and from North Shore Road. There is major, widespread destruction throughout the property. In my super, non-expert opinion, it looks like a good portion of the resort, if not the majority, will have to be torn down and rebuilt.
As of today, there have been no visible repairs that have occurred on property. In fact, just last week, they finally attempted to mow their lawn for the first time. (That didn’t go over so well as the grass was so darn high.) So you may be wondering what the holdup is? Well, Caneel hasn’t said anything official as of yet. We have corresponded with them several times, although they have failed to have a detailed conversation with us despite saying they wanted to do so on a few occasions. We do know that a bill was introduced to Congress in December asking to extend the “retained use estate” for Caneel. This is a somewhat fancy way of saying that there are only a few years left on a bill (Amendment? … Sorry it’s been years since I’ve worked as a real reporter in politics) that gives Caneel permission to act as a resort on that particular piece of National Park property. It doesn’t make sense to dump a ton of money into a property when its “lease” (for lack of a better word) expires in a few years. This is such a complicated matter at this point that we are going to leave this topic here for the moment. We will have more on Caneel later in the week. The bottom line: It’s going to be a long time before they reopen.
Now back onto the current state of the island…
Cruise past Caneel and the first beach you will come to is Hawksnest. It honestly looks great. All of the pavilions survived and church service is still being held every Sunday at 10 a.m. (All are welcome.) The beach itself is lovely and appears to be a bit wider. Like most of the beaches, we lost some shade, but the place is still one of the most beautiful in the world. Hawsknest still has changing rooms and toilets too.
Drive past Hawknest and you will see Gibney Cottages. The landscaping took a hit, but is starting to look very good. The adorable white picket fence that lines the front of the property was just put up again last week. We hear the cottages are open for business, which is great news.
Right next door is Oppenheimer. The yellow building lost part of its roof, which is now covered with a blue tarp. We lost the majority of the palms that lined the beach including the iconic tree that once held the tire swing. Workers cleared a good deal of brush and debris last week, giving an entirely new look and feel to the space. Some love it. Some hate it. I guess you’re going to have to visit us and decide for yourself.
Just beyond that as you head up the hill is Easter Rock. It looks exactly like it did before the storm. I received several questions asking if it was leaning. It’s not. I use a fish eye lens with my GoPro, so you can see a wider view. Apparently this made Easter Rock look tilted during one of the videos I posted. Sorry to confuse several of you. All is well with Easter Rock.
Beyond that is the parking lot at Peace Hill. Again, nothing has changed here. The hike is still only .1 miles to Peace Hill while the walk down to Denis is a bit longer. Both Peace Hill and Denis Bay are accessible and look great. (Reminder: There is a private home at the end of the beach at Denis Bay. Please be respectful when in this area, and please do not go on the private property.)
The next beach down North Shore Road is Jumbie. This beach does not have too much evidence of the hurricane, which makes it one of my current favorites.
From there we come to the stunning Trunk Bay overlook. This is the scene that comes up nearly every time when you Google St. John. And you know what, it still looks absolutely amazing!! The shrubs were cut back just last week opening up an even greater view for those of you who are coming to visit us … and a HUGE thank you to all of you who are! Trunk Bay itself looks great too. Parking has been available nearly every time I ride by, which is definitely not the norm for February. But it’s great for those of you visiting the island. There is still no running water on site, which means no flush toilets, showers or concessions. There are very clean portable toilets on site. The rental hut is also open, so you can rent snorkel gear, chairs, etc. There is no charge to enter Trunk these days, as they cannot charge when they cannot offer the concessions, running water, etc.
Once you leave Trunk, you will drive up a few switchbacks before coming to the entrance of Peter Bay. This area looks pretty darn good and all of its beautiful landscaping has bounced back over the past five months. One home on the beach sustained a fair amount of damage, but the rest look like they fared pretty well.
From there, you start to see more damage. Cinnamon Bay is the next beach, and it sustained considerable damage. The campground remains closed, and just like Caneel, pretty much nothing has happened there to clean it up. The National Park cleaned up the entrance and exit areas at Cinnamon Bay, as well as the parking areas. They also cleared a path to the beach, and cleaned up the beach too. (It is not the National park’s responsibility to clean up the campground area.) The beach itself at Cinnamon looks great, but the walk getting there is quite sad. The eco tents that were installed last year are covered with trees, and the stucco (looks like concrete) little cottages are all severely damaged and will need to be torn down. The California company that runs the campground has told us that it wants to reopen, but we have no idea when that will actually occur. Lastly, the archeology lab on the beach was destroyed during Irma. Only its back wall remains. The positive: It makes for a beautiful pic. We’ve been told that Friends of the Park are planning to rebuild a new lab once the funds are raised. We will keep you all posted on this. Oh and there are very clean portable toilets here too.
Your next main stop along North Shore Road is the Maho and Francis bays overlook. This is an interesting stop. If you look toward the Maho area, it’s pretty sad. You can see that our pavilions are gone, that the road washed out and that many of the trees died during the storm. But if you look to your left, you see a beautiful hillside over at Mary Point. Whistling Cay looks great too, and the tiny ruin is still intact facing the bays.
Taking the initial turn over at Maho is like a punch in the gut the first time you see it. I am not trying to scare anyone here, but that’s our reality. The once heavily wooded area that greeted you at Maho is now just a mess of downed trees. (Full disclaimer: Maho is my absolute favorite place on St. John. It was before the storms and it continues to be today. Yes, it is completely different but it is still beautiful to me.) As I mentioned, we lost our pavilions and buildings on the western side of the beach. Only the toilet survived and that building is open. Further down the beach, orange barriers line the beachside of the road, marking the area where the road washed out. This section is currently one lane only. I like to stop further down the beach to gaze out at the water. As long as you can look past the downed trees and tree debris that lines several areas of the beach, you can see how beautiful a beach this continues to be. And there are so many turtles! Yes, they took off briefly after the storm (perhaps they needed a vacation like many of us did), but they are back, and there are so many of them! I often see them from the Jeep when I stop during my News of St. John island Tours. I love seeing them pop their little heads up when they go for a breath of air. But moving on… The parking lot on the east side of the beach is closed as we told you all last week. This should be closed for about two months while the National Park works on that area. We will keep you all posted on that. Lastly, the little yellow on the house at the bend is still there and pretty much looks exactly as it did pre-storm.
From there we cruise of the one-way and over to the Francis and Annaberg areas. Along the way, you can see the gravel road that was cut in on your left that leads to a home that was being built prior to the storms. The road looks like it washed out a bit, although it still remains. I haven’t seen any activity in this area over the last few months.
Now we’re at the intersection where you can take a right to Annaberg or a left to Francis. This is a very sad area in my opinion. The mangroves on the right look dead. They took quite a hit. The canopy of trees you drove under while en route to Annaberg is no longer. This area hurts. I have to be brutally honest about that. But on the bright side, the view out toward Tortola across from the Annaberg parking lot is still as beautiful as ever. There’s just something special about the colors over there. There are, however, a few destroyed boats in that area which is sad. But again, looking at the bright side, Annaberg itself looks great! There was a bit of crumbling, particularly at the boiling room, but the National park has secured the area and visitors are welcome. The views at Annaberg are some of the best on island in my opinion.
So now let’s head back down the road and over to Francis. The road leading to Francis looks great, as does Mary Creek on your right. The dirt road down to Francis doesn’t look that bad either, although there are some pretty good size potholes that have formed over the past month or so. Francis itself lost nearly all its shade, but the beach still looks fabulous. I do suggest you bring an umbrella when visiting this beach because the sun gets very hot. Some crafty visitors have constructed little huts (think Survivor-like) out of driftwood and branches, so if you are lucky, you can grab a spot near one of them and fling your towel over the top for some shade. I’ve seen turtles and rays at Francis too over the past month. I’ve also heard that one of the grills is now in the water … makes for a new snorkeling spot I guess. (Trying to see the positive here!!) But again, Francis looks great and I think you should all check it out on your next visit.
Wow, we covered a lot today and my fingers are starting to hurt – lol. I think I am going to leave it right here for now. Stay tuned for our next installment when we head over to Coral Bay and perhaps the East End or Salt Pond area. As always, thanks everyone for reading!!