Magens Bay, part of a public park located on the north side of St. Thomas, is well known to both residents and visitors. In fact it is the most popular beach on the island. The majority of beach goers head to Magens Bay to enjoy the beautiful long stretch of white sand and the calm crystal clear water. Sitting on the shore their eyes gaze out at the ocean, the small island in the distance and the verdant hills on either side of the bay. Behind the beachgoer, just beyond the swaying coconut trees, is a lush green forest. The forest is filled with a variety of trees from the interesting but uninviting ‘monkey no climb’ tree to the tall and stately Royal Palm. A variety of birds, butterflies, frogs, crabs and other critters live within the forest. This is the rest of the park; the Magens Bay Watershed Preserve.
On December 28, 1946 the municipality of St. Thomas/St. John was given a magnificent gift, Magens Bay beach and 50 acres around the beach. Arthur S. Fairchild was the gift-giver and he stipulated that Magens Bay should be “Maintained as a public park (with its natural beauty preserved) for use by the people of the Virgin Islands in perpetuity without discrimination of any kind as to race, creed, color or national origin.” The area was developed by the St. Thomas Park Authority, now the Magens Bay Authority, for public recreation in accordance with wishes of the donor.
Fast forward 56 years…
In 2002 a large parcel of land belonging to the Wheaton Estate was purchased. This parcel in combination with the existing Magens Bay Authority managed beach park and an existing 75 acre preserve managed by the Nature Conservancy was joined to create the 319-acre Magens Bay Watershed Preserve. The Preserve protects approximately 25 percent of the Magens Bay watershed and is a joint effort between the Virgin Islands Government, the Nature Conservancy and the Magens Bay Authority.
The Magens Bay Watershed Preserve is one of the largest protected areas on St. Thomas. The unique area includes diverse habitats including dry tropical forest, moist forest, fringing mangrove wetlands, seashore, coral reef and seagrass beds. These provide homes to a variety of plants and animals.
Within the bay are Coral reefs which provide critical habitat for conch, sea turtles, fish including grouper, snapper, sharks, barracudas, parrotfish, surgeon fish and other marine species.
Birds make homes and nesting grounds in both the dry forests of the hillsides and moist forest found in the mangrove wetlands. These include native and migratory birds such as golden warbler, stilt sandpiper, northern waterthrush, peregrine falcon and piping plover. Seabirds found in the area include tropicbirds, boobies, pelicans, frigate birds, gulls and terns.
The Magens Bay Watershed Preserve includes both wetlands and dry forest. The wetlands contain mangrove trees and other moist forest plants. In the dry forest are yellow cedar, red-barked turpentine, tyre palm, guava berry, genip and silk cotton trees.
Tropical Discovery Hiking Trail
A well maintained trail leads through the Preserve; it was opened to the public in May 2004. The Preserve and trail were made possible in part by a 25 acre land donation to the Nature Conservancy by Frank McConnell in hopes that residents and visitors would someday be able to enjoy this beautiful undeveloped area of St. Thomas. The trail is dedicated to McConnell’s mother Virginia.
The trailhead is located off Magens Bay Road at Canaan and ends at Magens Bay Beach. Hikers can get dropped off at the top of the trail and hike down. Or start at Magens Bay and hike up to the trailhead and then back down. It is a moderately active hike and covers approximately 1.5 miles. The moderately steep parts have some steps, ropes or hand rails to help with navigating the trail. Plenty of shade is provided from the tree canopy. Near the top of the trail there is a wooden platform overlooking Magens Bay and it is an excellent place to enjoy the view and to observe birds in the Preserve. Some signs are available on trees providing their names and description. The Magens Bay Watershed Preserve and the Tropical Discovery Hiking Trail allow visitors to observe plants, birds and wildlife, to learn about the ecology of the area and to connect with nature.
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