This wonderland was recreated by the vision of two dedicated conservationists, a Virgin Islander with a passion for conservation of natural areas, J.R. O’Neal, and an American businessman, Laurence Rockefeller. These men, each with an equal passion for conservation of these tropical emerald isles, arranged the purchase of the area. This area was declared a national park in 1964, marking the beginning of the conservation of unique natural areas in this Territory.
The Caribbean region has long been recognized as an important biological niche, rich in unique tropical flora and fauna. However, it is only in the last four decades that conservation awareness of the environment became a priority in the Virgin Islands.
The charter yacht industry and the rapid rise in cruise ship tourism during the last two decades provided the impetus for visitation to the some of these unique natural areas in the Territory.
In the plantation era, this 92 acre of moist sub-tropical forest was replaced by cotton and sugar cane plantations, owned by the British plantocracy, and flourished with African slave labour. After emancipation, the land was utilized for subsistence farming until its purchase and subsequent declaration as a national park.
Funding from the Rockefeller Foundation under the management of J. R. O’Neal, allowed the park to convert large areas, which had been denuded of natural vegetation, to be replanted with mahogany, cedar, and other indigenous trees.
Standing at an elevation of over 1700 feet, Sage Mountain is the highest peak in the Virgin Islands, and reveals panoramic views of the surrounding islands. Amazingly, the mountain produces its own relief rainfall. Warm moist air rises from the east and the south, cooling as it crosses the peak and falls as rain on the north western side of the mountain resulting in the growth of unique flora and fauna. Fortunately a rocky terrain area, unsuitable for agriculture, retained the original forest species.
The park has twelve marked trails forming a circular route which provides access to all the major areas in the park, and provides views of the surrounding vistas. A walk in the park will reveal forest trees such as bullet wood, mahogany, guavaberry, cedar, tree ferns, and philodendrons. It is a nature lover’s dream!
Some of the vegetation growing at Sage Mountain, because of its unique micro-climate, is not found growing naturally in other areas on the island. Fauna found in the park include hermit crabs, the American kestrel, red- tailed hawks, mountain doves and the pearly-eyed trasher.
As a visitor to these islands, Sage Mountain should be on your agenda as a must see. Transportation to the park is available, via taxis from Road Town. For the more adventurous, there is trail that is also accessible from Cane Garden Bay, starting at Quito’s Restaurant and Bar. You can also find travel guides to assist you while planning your visit. This information is available online.
The high elevation and the great diversity of flora and fauna make Sage Mountain National Park a really unique area in the BVI. Walking on land where our ancestors once worked under the bondage of slavery is like walking on holy ground. As Virgin Islanders whether by birth or nationalization, preservation of these historic and unique areas must be our priority.
This article is intended to whet your appetite, both visitors and residents, to visit Sage Mountain, but not to reveal all its secrets.
Information for this article was sourced from the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands.