Cockpit Country tour boosting livelihoods in Rock Spring
ROCK SPRING, Trelawny
HUGH Dixon, the executive director of the South Trelawny Environmental Agency (STEA), like many other area residents, believes that the standard of the agency's eco- tourism attractions in Rock Spring and Spring Gardens have significantly improved over the last year.
He notes too, that since the injection of $19 million through the World Bank-funded Rural and Economic Development Initiative (REDI), implemented by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) in 2012, to improve the facilities at the Rock Spring Cave attraction, more persons in that
section of the parish are benefitting financially.
"The support from the JSIF/REDI to the STEA has made it possible for an attraction (cave) in Rock Spring community to be licensed by the Jamaica Tourist Board and certified for promotion in the tourism market," Dixon told the Jamaica Observer West.
"That project is enabling the STEA to improve the standards of its eco- attractions and make them suitable for the marketplace," Dixon added, noting that STEA's mission is to promote sustainable development in the Cockpit Country through conservation and alternative livelihood projects.
"One strategy of the STEA is to showcase the landscapes, trails, areas of historic significance and the folklore of the Cockpit Country communities to visitors. With the development of the sites in the communities in the Cockpit Country, the local populations are able to benefit financially from hosting visitors in the community. The financial gains cause residents of the communities that benefit, to protect the scenic landscapes and resources of the area that are the reference points for visitors," Dixon explained.
Residents, he pointed out, provide accommodation, agricultural commodities, cultural services and technical assistance to facilitate the visitors.
Delroy Reid, a farmer from the Rock Spring community noted that because of the attraction at the cave he has had to employ persons to work with him on his farm
"I supply yams, pumpkin, sugar cane and banana which boost my earnings and provide another income stream," he declared.
"It's (the tour of the cave) is a good thing, it provides young people with work and keeps them off the streets."
Dixon said communities in South Trelawny are now realising that some of the natural resources and local traditions they took for granted can provide them with income, if properly packaged for the tourism sector.
The improved attraction at the cave has directly benefited 34 parishioners through employment in areas ranging from chefs, farmers, four small businesses and tour guides.
Donovan Haughton, a tour coordinator, said the modernised facilities at the Rock Spring cave, which were made possible under REDI, are of tremendous benefit, particularly to the Cockpit Country, and to the island's tourism sector in general.
"The Rock Spring Cave attraction is now professionally outfitted for greater marketability, and standardised to international measures, and now better able to compete on that front," he argued.
Under the project, aimed at increasing economic returns and rural development in the community, 600 metres of walking trail has been established, providing access to the much- improved attraction. The walking trail has been made safer by wooden safety rails and posts along with safety signage.
An alternative access route to the cave was also added.
The Rock Spring attraction also received safety equipment such as helmets, headlamps, flashlights and uniform shirts, under the multi-million-dollar project.
Several other pieces of equipment were also provided under the initiative at the attraction, which now boasts a new kiosk with seats and sanitary conveniences complete with changing rooms.
So far, 20 persons from the surrounding communities have received Team Jamaica certification in a bid to heighten community tourism awareness and improve customer service. A further 15 persons are being trained as tour guides.
"A promotional DVD, a new logo, brochures, flyers, banners, sales kits, and upgrading of the existing website will be added to heighten marketing and promotion for the tour," the Observer West was told.
-- Mark Cummings