Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer
VALERIE DIXON, a public affairs commentator, community tourism, and environmental activist and educator has a serious concern. It's about the possible destruction of the beauty and biodiversity of Canoe Valley, in southern Manchester, and the need to create job opportunities in a place that has so much to offer, without damage to the environment.
In an article in The Gleaner of Thursday, October 25, Dixon said, among other things, "A plethora of jobs can be created using the immense biodiversity found in the Canoe Valley. There can be organised tours for schools and visitors of Taino sites, establishment of trails for hikers, birdwatchers, and nature lovers. Other potential attractions include the re-establishment of the fishing industry - commercial and recreational; kayaking; snorkelling in the wetlands, rivers and springs; and many other nature-based job opportunities."
But, around 2005, it was learned that Florida-based Rinker Jamaica Ltd was planning to mine limestone in Canoe Valley and to build a deep-water port. Local environmentalists, with the assistance of a University of Oregon law student and a public-interest lawyer in Florida, were able to get whatever plans or proposal on offer shelved.
However, there is still a sign in Cocoa Walk district that says, "Rinker Jamaica Ltd, Exclusive Prospecting Licence, Location Beacon", and according to Dixon, there seems to be some talks going on of late about resurrecting the proposal to mine limestone in Canoe Valley.
So, she is getting ready to fight vigorously any move to interfere with the biodiversity of Canoe Valley. And based on her description of Canoe Valley, I contacted her to hear some more, the nature lover that I am. To see it all, Dixon took me to a place called Neaseberry Bottom (sic) in the Cocoa Walk/Morley Hill area, some miles away from Cross Keys, which is actually a misnomer for 'across the cays', the Alligator Pond cays, which are slightly visible from the hills.
And I was stunned to tears. I pinched myself twice to see if I was still alive. What I saw in front of me was a kaleidoscope of ethereal beauty that no one word could adequately describe. And from the expansive, glistening Caribbean Sea, Dixon's passion and concerns were reflected.
Several hundred feet above sea level I had to be on a well-manicured property called Rustic Retreat. The buildings thereon partly obstructed the view, so we circumvented them. The world was now at my feet suddenly - lush vegetation going down, down, and out, out. Out to where it seems like a forested ridge of limestone hillocks touches the sea that curves in the east into a bay called Long Bay, and framed by Farquhar Beach, which is actually in Clarendon.
Seemingly rising from the sea, with white-looking cliffs, is the piéce de résistance of the entire panorama: Round Hill, also in Clarendon. It looks like a huge pyramid with its apex truncated. The mineral waters at Milk River Spa are believed to be flowing from Round Hill, behind which the plains of Vere appear to stretch into a hazy oblivion.
At the time of day when I visited, the sun was getting ready to set in the west, giving the water a pale orange shimmer, and obscuring the visibility of the Alligator Pond Cays. A woman called Maureen said the sunset is so beautiful that it becomes scary at times, a perfect oxymoron for this striking juxtaposition of sea, swampland, limestone forests, plains, and mountains, a beauty which no camera can accurately capture, or to which any painter's brush can do justice.
many places of interest
Back to earth, in the valley, the diversity is as rich as the view from above. From Alligator Pond in the west to Alligator Hole in the east (almost the entire breadth of Manchester), there are many places of interest, despite the rough state of the long, winding sea road, partly visibly from above.
There are Taino caves with petroglyphs (prehistoric drawings done on rocks). Canoe Valley perhaps got its name from the fact that the Tainos used to build canoes from the cotton trees that were abundant in the area. There are also remains of a British fort. These are closer to Alligator Pond. At the halfway mark, there is Gut River, where a river runs under the road into the sea. There are also bluish-green pools, one of which is called God's Well.
Alligator Hole River, near the Clarendon border, is said to be the home of the last remaining manatees in Jamaica waters. They swim up the river late evenings to be fed by conservationists. Vessels and humans are not allowed in the water, and the manatees are not to be touched. There is a look-out point from which they may be observed.
Yet, Dixon's lookout point is everywhere, and throughout the valley, her gem from The Gleaner is still echoing. "Many of them (experts and consultants) do not understand that Jamaica has been blessed and endowed with unique ecosystems that are like a precious diamond necklace. If one link gets broken and some diamonds are lost, then the value and beauty could be gone forever."