The Current State of the Island – Part 2

Hawksnest, February 2018
Hawksnest, February 2018

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!!

60 thoughts on “The Current State of the Island – Part 2”

  1. I read your posts everyday. Wonderful work. I can see the entire North Shore in my minds eye from your reporting. Please let us know more about Lucy’s and Little Lamshur if you can get out that far

  2. Sad to hear that the iconic Cinnamon Bay campground is still in ruins after five months. That is public land on concession to a private company. If the private company is unwilling or unable to restore the place somebody else should step in and do the job.

  3. Very sad to read about all the devastation. The island will never be the same. Sounds like a lot of people are on ‘island time’ when they should be on ‘get er done’ time. My two cents.

    • What? Are you kidding? People on the island are working SO hard. The strides they are made are just incredible. Are you on St. John Dieter?

    • We were there in December and the island actually looks amazing considering all that happened and that is in large part due to the people who live there. People were working 7 days a week when we were there. The roads were all in good shape, considering everything that went on, the trails were all cleaned up, the pathways to the beach were all cleaned up. St. John looked much better than St Thomas in my opinion.

  4. Thank you for this wonderful update. We are planning a 10th anniversary celebration in August so I really appreciate all the news! Sounds like a lot of positive news for it being less than 6 months from the hurricanes. Thank you again!

  5. Jen, thank you for your awesome updates! I felt like I was in the passenger seat of your Island tour! Great reporting! Can’t wait for our trip back!

  6. There is a volunteer sign-up document on the Cinnamon Bay campsite website but it seems obvious it’s not yet ready for volunteers to help with the restoration.

    Are there any programs for volunteer workers anywhere on the island that include lodging? That would appeal to me.


  7. We really appreciate all this helpful info. It is so sad to hear that the Eco tents at Cinnamon are still in disarray. My son camped here two years ago and wanted to make this an annual camping trip! But we will see you in 8 days!!!!!!

  8. Good work, Jenn. You’re an excellent reporter. I, too, could visualize every turn in the road. Thank you for your hard, heartbreaking, hopeful labors on our behalf. Be well. We’ll be back soon.

  9. Thanks to you and to all who have participated in the renewal , reconstruction, rebuilding, or however one wishes to describe the incredible amount of work it has taken to get the island of St John to the point where your visitors can return.

    People who are quick to judge…. Insurance, litigation, transport of supplies to an Island(one of many affected), people working to secure and rebuild their own properties, all factor into recovery back to “normal”. In NJ it has taken years for some to rebuild.

    Still working on a return 2018 visit. Thanks Jen.

  10. Thanks for doing this Jenn! I keep checking in for updates. It was so nice to read that Gibney’s iconic white picket fence is back. It’s one of my favorite stretches- when the pink frangipani drape over the white fence it’s just so pretty. I hope it’s ok- I posted a link to this on TA.

  11. The implication from some responders is that islanders need to “get Er done”. You have to remember that the US government owns more than 60% of the island per the Rockefeller will donating it for use as a Federal Park. Considering all the lack of activity in Washington, other than tweets and insults, these islands are on their own. Several wealthy folks who live on St John have been overwhelming supporting the recovery process but unless Washington steps up, it’s going to be a long road for this gorgeous island and it’s resilient residents.

  12. Thank you for much Jenn for all your excellent reports on St John over the past months. All of our island loving friends here in the states are following your news posts on the progress in St John. We are returning this year and hope to convince some friends to do the same! Love to all on our favorite island,

  13. It’s been sad to see and hear of the destruction, but wonderful to read of the recovery and restoration. Thanks for continuing to be our “eyes and ears” on-island. Please don’t stop!

  14. We lived on-island for two years and could “ride” with you through every INCH of your monologue. Thank you for the update and we look forward to chapter 3. We’re going down for our next pilgimmage in November and hope you post another series of updates leading into next season. Until then, THANK YOU FOR BEING YOU, Jenn <3

  15. I appreciate your descriptions / the positive tones / the appreciation of what’s to come.
    I went through a storm on St. John in the early 70’s / that paled to the recent devastating storms – however – I will never forget it.
    I would like to come for a visit – please suggest a good time – I hold the USVI close to my heart / I designed CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS – the DISCOVERY in the 90’s that was shot there. Keep up the good work and spirit – we appreciate it.

  16. We vacationed there a few times in the 1990’s. How’s the coral? We remember the snorkeling especially offshore by boat as being awesome. Did the hurricanes or bleaching damage them???

  17. Thanks Jenn. Last fall I was not optimistic we would be able to visit in May of 2018…….but alas we are bringing a group for 10 days in mid-May. Thanks for the updates!

  18. Is the little Market below the lumber yard, owned by Karen, still in business?
    Did she and her husband Thomas make it through? Ive emailed her but not heard back. This is the store across from customs.

  19. We are former residents of St John from 1988-1995,
    One thing I know is St John and the residents will bounce back , it may take time but they will!
    My husband and I signed up to volunteer to come help clean up St John , this place was our home with our daughter, we were a part of vacation homes with the Demars .Can anyone tell us if we are able to camp anywhere while helping to restore and clean . We want to spend our 10 days vacation time helping all we can . Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Sending prayers and blessings

  20. Yes… Would love to hear any update on Waterlemon Cay and Leinster Bay…

    Thank you so much for your reporting. There are 10 of us arriving in 1 month!

  21. Thank you so much for giving us all such detailed updates! This really is my therapy every morning and makes me want to come back just that much more. I, too, feel like I’m on-island when I read these. You’re doing an amazing service, I’m sure you know. SO looking forward to more…maybe we’ll hear about Leinster and Waterlemon? (forgive me if we already have).

    My heart belongs to the Coral Bay area, and I heard that Spyglass villa on 108 took a hit? Does anyone know? Can’t wait for all the updates!

    Cheers to you all!

  22. Thank you for that in depth view of St John. We used to stay at a villa across from the entrance to Francis, 1 of my favorites. What’s the state of local music + musicians?

  23. The devastation of the island has been incredible as we can see from Jenn’s excellent reporting. Hoping for a a full recovery, two things come to mind. With sufficient funds and adequate logistics, buildings and infrastructure can rapidly be repaired or rebuilt. Not so for the landscape and tree cover which can take forever to recover, if it even does. But there are things that can be done. There are bars and tourist attractions in the Norhteast US where they manage to plant large palms in areas where they obviously cannot survive the winter. Seacrets in Maryland for example every Spring imports hundreds of large palms and other shrubs from South Carolina and Florida via containers and tractor trailers. If you visit the place in early April it looks like a desolate and devastated area but a week later it’s like a tropical jungle. All that seems like a waste to me. But could something like that work for the hardest hit areas of St. John?

    • There’s several palm tree ranches in South Florida which probably grow THOUSANDS of palms—–they can’t be missed when driving south to the keys. The replacement of the palms at the world famous beaches of St. John would have an enormous visual impact, both physically and psychologically. So there’s an idea—now who’s got the funds?

      • For many private businesses a nice landscape is not just psychological, it attracts customers. Here’s hoping that a good part of their rehab budget will go towards trees and other plantings.

  24. I wonder if the lemon shark is still over at Haulover N? I’ve seen it/them a bunch of times.

    We’re taking this year off, plane ticket prices through the roof. Thanks to everyone that got the island up and (sort of) running again. Everyone’s in your debt.

    God, I’m gonna miss the rural tranquility of St. John next week.


  25. For decades I have spent my vacations in the Virgin Islands primarily on St John weather it is cinnamon Bay Maho Concordia or any other place it is a paradise that the United States is now a banding it is the most profoundly disgusting response to a paradise which America has an innate response ability to we should be utterly ashamed

  26. Capt. Morgan – palm trees are not native to St. John and should not be replaced. They’re an invasive and dangerous species that can kill people when coconuts drop on heads. Perhaps you also want to level the mountains while we’re at it and make St. John flat like Aruba? Maybe Congress will pay for the heavy machinery and labor to flatten both islands?

    • Thor, your comment about the palms is silly at best. The palms on Solomon, Gibney, Maho, etc. are what made these beaches so very special. Invasive to what extent?? Dangerous???? If a person is stupid enough to sit directly in the fall area of coconuts, they deserve what they get!!!!!! Look at the webcam of the Soggy Dollar and you will see that they are even now planting mature palms.

    • Thor,

      thank you, finally someone said that the palm trees are not native to St. John and I totally agree with the rest of your post as well.


    • Opinions are one thing, facts are another. How many people have been killed by these falling coconuts? I’m willing to bet fewer than people that have been killed in auto accidents. Maybe get rid of all cars???? I understand they “can” kill people but “have” they???
      Curious as to your fact based responce.

  27. Regardless of the destruction the island and the people are beautiful. We’ll be there in a couple of weeks and I’ll buy the drinks. Good work keeping everyone up to date.

  28. Jenn. I know you have MANY readers. I think an impromptu poll would be interesting regarding the re-planting of palms on STJ. Opinions may vary and I realize much would depend on the Park Services, but I suspect the vast majority of us frequent visitors would love to see them replanted. Just how invasive is a palm tree and how many hundreds have been killed by falling coconuts? Some comments are just ridiculous to me. They are what make the Caribbean Islands so special. And I have been to most. The Bahamas, Grand Turk, BVI, St. Martin, St. Lucia, St. Kitts just to name a few. I suspect the response would be overwhelming in favor and if enough people voice how they feel, perhaps even the Park Service could be swayed!!

  29. This is an excellent time to rid the island of all non-native pants and animals. YES- so long coconut trees, was nice knowing you, now BEAT IT! Mongoose varmints, likewise, nice knowing you, NOW SCRAM!

    • Are human beings native to the Island? Maybe we need to eradicate them as well.
      There are millions of Palm Trees all over the world and they are commonly used in pictures to depict places of “paradise”. They bring happy and peaceful thoughts to the majority of people.
      Bring on more Palm Trees.

  30. The Internet if full of reports that falling coconuts kill 150 people worldwide each year, 15 times the number of fatalities attributable to sharks. However, no proof of this statistic can be found even though it is very often quoted by many people.

    • Hear, Hear!!!! What TOTAL idiots some people are!! Like you, I would like to see substantiated facts. Roher and Thor should grow up. If such a statistic were true, Soggy Dollar would have about 2-3 deaths per year due to falling coconuts. Guess Roher wears native pants. LOL!!!

  31. I’m a marine biologist. Non-native coconut trees are bad for the ecosystem. They uproot native flowering plants and the coconuts that land in or get put in the ocean can damage coral reef and marine animals.

    • Ya ! While we’re at it let’s exterminate the non-native fauna. Mongoose, deer, donkeys, they damage the native environment too. Soooooo stupid, palms trees are cool, people like them. Hope hundreds are planted and transplanted on the island.

  32. We have been with you since Irma was hitting and remain with you now. You’ve turned our tears to smiles with your updates. I can’t write more….going to go book a villa. Thank you so much!

  33. Your posts are so helpful — I can see everything you talked about in my mind’s eye. Thank you, and I can’t wait to hear about Coral Bay and beyond — my favorite part of the island.

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