My father used to regale us with stories about how he and his friends used to ride their bicycles all around Barbados so that they could fish, dive and just hang out. Unfortunately, only the most seasoned of riders would risk taking to Barbados’ roads with the growth of car ownership, deterioration of road surfaces and the perennial problem of traffic.  Gone are the times when children felt at liberty to explore the island on foot or cycle without fear of road traffic or trespassing on private lands. Another feature that has disappeared from use by the island’s schools is the ‘bicycle room’, which was once full of well-used bicycles – now you would be lucky to find one!

The provision of recreational spaces can be considered as the last frontier of social policy and development in post-Independent Barbados. Over the last 50 years we have seen Barbados evolve from a colony where undernutrition, high infant and child mortality and low educational attainment prevailed, to a country that can now boast of free education and free or ‘affordable’ health care. The high incidence of chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs) such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardio-vascular disease, threatens to reverse these achievements especially with the exponential growth in the costs to treat them. Moreover, the questions around the sustainability of the island’s economy and generous provision of social services, including health care, continues to place significant pressure on individuals and families, resulting in high stress levels and a certain degree of mental anguish all of the above threaten the mental health and wellness of the island’s population.

From an environmental perspective, beyond the recreational spaces afforded by the island’s beaches and community playing fields, the Future Centre Trust would like to see more attention being paid to land conservation and the development of nature/ hiking trails. A popular example is the annual Colin Hudson Great Train Hike, which is named in honour of the organisation’s founder.

“Colin Hudson was passionate about agriculture, environmental sustainability and his favourite past time – hiking. He would whole heartedly embrace a project which sought to plant fruit and shade trees along a trail that helped to reacquaint Barbadians with the agricultural landscape while keeping fit and healthy.”

Barney Gibbs, FCT Director

The Barbados Trailway will convert a portion of the disused trainline (which operated from 1881 to 1937) into a 16km paved multi-use trail from Bulkeley Sugar Factory to Consett Bay. It is a fiscally and socially responsible heritage tourism development project that can help to diversify and enhance our tourism product while also providing recreational spaces that both locals and visitors can enjoy – not only now, but also for future generations.

The Rail to Trail project is an initiative that has found support in Government and has been created in partnership with a consortium of private interests. It is intended to be a free access point to trail use. The project has secured Town and Country Planning Permission and is now part of both the Tourism Master Plan and the amended Physical Development Plan. Project designers are investigating some alternative methods of fundraising, but Government’s ‘buy-in’ into the project is essential for its success.

The railway line’s boundaries have more or less been respected since the train ceased operations in 1937. However, in recent years, there has been increasing encroachment by private bounders on what is Crown-controlled land. This first phase provides Barbadians and visitors a chance to enjoy a vehicular traffic-free trail where they can cycle, walk and run with family and friends in relative comfort and safety while communing with the outdoors. The selected area for trail development also offers heritage interpretation of the island’s rural history on themes ranging from the indigenous presence, to the 1816 Bussa Rebellion, to the history of the railway (there is a niche market of railway enthusiasts who are likely to be attracted to this theme). It can also potentially be used to deliver health and environmental messages. The trail also passes a number of adjacent visitor attractions, such as Sunbury Plantation, Kendal Sporting Club, Three Houses Park, the Crane Beach Hotel, and Consett Bay Fishing Complex. There is also potential for spin-off businesses and the development of the local informal economy through vending and small business development such as bicycle rentals and tour guiding.

A key element of the trail will be the use of fruit trees to landscape the trails and picnic areas for the public to enjoy and also to provide healthy snacks for Barbadians and visitors alike, while improving the island’s food security.  Gibbs, as project coordinator for the FCT’s Future Trees Project, and in cooperation with the Trees That Feed Foundation has been already engaged in stockpiling a nursery that could be used to landscape the project. The planting focus will be new high quality varieties of mangoes, dunks and other tropical fruit, including the Ma’afala breadfruit, which is a smaller variety of breadfruit that is easier to harvest.

“This is a realistic project that has been designed to utilize an existing land space for community and tourism development, while also promoting physical and mental health and wellness in our population that is currently suffering the ill-effects of CNCDs. We are happy that the project has found support with several representatives from health, environmental and sports NGOs, but now we need to make this project a reality.”

Barney Gibbs, FCT Director

Not enough of our current health expenditure and policy are focused on health promotion and disease prevention, especially when there are relatively small investments that can be made in changing our built environment to accommodate both our food security goals and alternative forms of sustainable transport, which promote walkable environments.

For more information about The Barbados Trailway Project visit https://www.facebook.com/BarbadosTrailway/ and for more information on the visit Future Centre Trust http://futurecentretrust.org.

About the Author

Tara Inniss
Tara Inniss - Lecturer, The University of the West Indies

Tara A. Inniss is a Lecturer in the Department of History and Philosophy at Cave Hill Campus, The University of the West Indies (UWI). The areas of focus for her teaching and research include: history of medicine; history of social policy; and heritage and social development. She has a PhD in Caribbean History from the UWI, Cave Hill Campus and a Masters in International Social Development at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.