GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-large South/Central Bureau firstname.lastname@example.org
SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth - Most of her colleagues sat or stood by idly, some grumbling that the money was too "small", but Maureen Miller, fondly called Blossom worked industriously, clearing debris under the bamboo trees.
She explained that the world-famous attraction, Holland Bamboo, represented her main means of livelihood. And, separate and apart from a special bamboo replanting project taking place last Thursday, she felt it was her responsibility to protect the grove.
"We should all take care of it...," Miller told journalists. "I have a stall in the bamboo and a lot of tourists come [to take] pictures and they keep asking why the bamboo is (thinning out)," she said.
It's an attitude that the authorities hope will spread among the residents of Holland, Lacovia and Middlesex, communities which embrace the historic three-mile-long bamboo grove.
Mayor of Black River, and chairman of the St Elizabeth Parish Council, Everton Fisher spearheaded the bamboo replanting project. He said it was also about trying to sensitise the people of the surrounding communities that protecting the bamboo was in their own interest.
"We want to get all stakeholders on board: the citizens, the parish councillors, the TPDCO (Tourism Product Development Company), Ministry of Agriculture, everybody on board to protect the bamboo," said Fisher, a PNP councillor.
His thoughts were echoed by councillor for the Lacovia Division, Vinceroy Blake (JLP), who remembers when the Holland Bamboo grove was a "very dark, cool canopy" and "all the light spots you see now were covered" in thick bamboo.
Hurricanes and major storms, over recent years, fires caused by carelessness and malice, pilfering, and stray animals have caused significant thinning, they said.
The parish council's replanting initiative was bor by fires in the dry months which burnt scores of bamboo trees. All agree that the first blaze was accidentally caused by farmers clearing adjoining land. A second fire was allegedly lit by residents angered by a police shooting.
Fisher said last week's replanting was costing the council about $400,000.
Sixty to 70 bamboo shoots, taken from the bush on the Holland Estate, was replanted in the worst-affected areas of the grove. Just over 70 people from the neighbouring communities had joined the project and would be paid what Fisher described as a "small stipend" of $1,200.
It was only a start, Fisher said, while expressing the expectation that TPDCo and the Ministry of Agriculture would continue the replanting drive in the grove, which historians say was originally planted by owners of the Holland Sugar Estate in the mid-1700s.
Several parish councillors from across political party lines had joined the replanting effort when the Observer visited on Thursday. Both Fisher and Blake agreed that the restoration and subsequent protection of the bamboo grove would best be sustained with the development of a community organisation dedicated to the task.
Back in July, visiting Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill and Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke took the same position.
On Thursday, another perspective came from Raymond Ramdon, superintendent of the Public Gardens Division of the Ministry of Agriculture which has responsibility for facilities such as Holland Bamboo.
Quizzed by journalists, he argued that the Lacovia and St Elizabeth police needed to be far more active with respect to the grove. Illicit fires apart, Ramdon said the stealing of bamboo, which was of increasing economic value "for fish pots, building props, stalls, funeral tents, and so on", was a major problem.
Ramdon noted that under the public gardens regulations anyone caught stealing bamboo from the Holland grove can be fined $250,000 and/or three months' imprisonment.
"I gave the police a copy of it (regulations) two weeks ago and we hope they will take some action," he said.
However, he is not encouraged by a recent experience when, as part of a wave of criminality and anti-social behaviour sweeping St Elizabeth in recent months, thieves made off with the two front doors of the Public Gardens Division office located at the heart of the bamboo grove.
"One full week after the (initial) report was made they (police) had not come. It was not until I came down here (from Kingston) and called several times during the day that someone came," Ramdon said.