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Gilpin Trace, Tobago

The Rainforest of Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve

Gilpin Trace (a.k.a. Gilpin Trail[a]) is a 4.48km (2.78mi) circuit, a two and one-half hour trek, which winds through the rainforest of north-eastern corner of Tobago's Main Ridge Forest Reserve. The trail straddles the Main Ridge's watershed—a ridge dividing neighboring river systems. It is believed to be the eldest, named trail extant on the Main Ridge[b}. Located off the Roxborough-Parlatuvier Road, on the right when heading towards Parlatuvier, and roughly opposite Niplig Trail, the trailhead is at the lookout of the Forestry Division, just after the 35.5km marker.

The trail descends sharply at first—the elevation at the start of the trail is 457m, the lowest point is 259m[1]—proceeding to the north-northeast, with minor diversions. Where the trail's main direction turns to the east-southeast it incorporates part of the abandoned Roxborough-Bloody Bay Old Road—a bench trail[c] running roughly west-northwest to east-southeast. It rejoins and continues along the Roxborough to Parlatuvier Road (for approx. 1.28km)—there is the cabin of the Forestry Division at this junction—heading west-southwest until the lookout of the Forestry Division. Some hikers consider the trail to be difficult.

White-tailed Sabrewing

The Main Ridge Forest Reserve—3,598 hectares (9,780 acres)—is located on Tobago's Main Ridge. In the main, it is an evergreen, lower montane forest—above 244 metres—harbouring palms, heliconias, lively-green ferns, bamboo clumps, yellow poui, and the majestic immortelle, fiddlewood, and silk cotton trees, amidst a variety of vegetation. It is reputed to be the oldest reserve in the Western Hemisphere being established in April 1776[2,3]. To attract frequent rainfall and so maintain the island's watershed was the intent of the ordinance.

Gilpin Trace offers the opportunity for bird watching, and the rare white-tailed sabrewing is a sought after species. This hummingbird species is a regional endemic, i.e., to Tobago and northeast Venezuela. On Tobago, it's now limited to a zone along the Roxborough-Parlatuvier Road and Mount Dillon; prior to Hurricane Flora, in 1963, its habitat, on the Main Ridge, stretched further west to Hillsborough Dam and eastward to Pigeon Peak[4].

Also found on the trail amongst hummingbirds are the copper-rumped hummingbird and rufous-breasted hermit; amongst passerine[d] species are the American redstart, blackpoll warbler, blue-backed manakins, cocoa woodcreepers, Fuscous Flycatcher, olivaceous woodcreepers, plain brown woodcreeper, red-legged honeycreepers, scrub greenlet, stripe-breasted spinetail, white-necked thrushes, yellow-breasted flycatcher, yellow-legged thrush; amongst Piciformes are the golden-olive woodpecker, red-crowned woodpecker, and red-rumped woodpeckers; amongst raptors are the great black hawk and broad-winged hawk; amongst the Psittaciformes is the orange-winged parrot, and; other birds including the cocrico (the national bird of Tobago), collared trogon—in a different genus from the Cuban trogon—plain antvireo, rufous-tailed jacamar (a common species on the trail), and the Trinidad motmot[e].

Further perks are streams, three waterfalls, gullies, and adjoining bench trails. Small mammals, e.g., agouti, armadillo, and opossum, roam the adjoining forest. The quietude of the Tobago rainforest engenders communion with nature. Then, there are views, at the start of the trail, of Bloody Bay and Grenada, on a clear day.

Local tour operators offer excursions to the trail. Then again, there are trail guides on locale that accompany hikers for a fee. During the rainy season, some of the guides rent Wellies, i.e., rubber boots, to hikers as the trail is often muddy.


aThe allusion is to a brand of machete (cutlass) with a bowed back and widening blade manufactured by William Gilpin & Co--a producer of plantation tools for colonial markets--of the UK, 1868-1946.
bThe Main Ridge extends lengthwise--roughly from the northeast to the southwest--across two-thirds of the island. Its highest point is 576m. It experiences an average annual rainfall of 3,800mm (150 inches).
cBefore the completion of the Roxborough-Parlatuvier Road in the early 1960s, the windward and leeward sides of northeast Tobago were connected by bench trails (aka donkey trails). Farmers used these trails to transport their produce. Typically three feet wide, it was dug into the hillside to the subsoil, after removing the topsoil, which was discarded down the slope.
dTypically a small, musical, perching bird. Their feet are adapted for perching with three toes pointing forward and one backward.
eThis species has a pair of racket-like, central retrices, and it is endemic to Trinidad and Tobago.

Works Cited

1The Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists' Club. The Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists' Club Trail Guide. Port of Spain: The Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalist Club, 2006. p. 271.
2ANDERSON, Winston. Anderson's Principles of Caribbean Environmental Law. Washington, DC: Environmental Law Institute, 2013. p. 283. 1585761575.
3UNESCO. Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve. UNESCO. [Online] UNESCO, August 17, 2011. [Cited: October 22, 2016.]
4Environmental Management Authority and Pat Turpin of Environment Tobago. EMA’s Environment Corner, The White-tailed Sabrewing Hummingbird. Environmental Management Authority. [Online] 2013. [Cited: 3 March 2017.]