Francis Bay Trail

Excerpted from St. John Off The Beaten Track

The Francis Bay Trail begins at the restored stone building at the intersection of the Leinster Bay Road and the Maho Bay Campground access road. It is a relatively easy 0.3-mile walk with only one small hill to negotiate. The trail goes through a dry scrub forest, past the ruins of an old residence and on to the beach at Francis Bay. It then winds through a mangrove forest and passes by a brackish pond before emerging from the mangroves at the dirt road between the beach entrance and the paved road at Mary's Creek.

The renovated stone building at the beginning of the trail now serves as a National Park Service storage house. The two dates, 1814 and 1911, inscribed on the structure refer to the original completion and subsequent restoration of the building. There is a chimney attached to the structure with a hole in the bottom that leads to the inside of the storage house. Behind the storage building are old stone walls and other ruins dating back to the subsistence farming days on St. John.

Storage buiding, Francis Bay Trail, St. John US Virgin Islands

The vegetation along the trail is disturbed and scrubby. This area was used to raise cattle for many years, and the land has not yet recovered.

Old residence
The ruins of an ornate old residence built around 1920, once belonging to the Creque family can be found on the right side of the trail about twenty yards from the trailhead.

This structure is in unstable condition, and it is dangerous to get too close to or walk in the ruins.

Remains of old residence along Francis Bay Trail, St. John USVI

There is a tile covered gallery floor, surrounded by a concrete railing that is still in fairly good condition. The house at one time had a wood frame second story and the gallery was covered by a section of roof extending from the main building.

Unlike the traditional detached kitchens of the old Virgin Islands, the cookhouse for this residence was attached to the estate house. This kitchen boasted five ovens, which were placed under a stone hood leading to a chimney.

Stairs behind the cook house lead to another gallery above. Behind the gallery is a freshwater well, and to the west are the remains of another small structure.

Imagine a family living here in the not-so-distant past.

Sketch by Natasha Singer

Semi-improved trails found just after the old residence lead to the remains of several old stone structures and above ground graves.

Francis Bay Ruin

Bird Watching
Francis Bay is a favorite spot for bird watchers, and the National Park Service sometimes offers a guided bird watching walk along the trail. Two good places to observe the birds are, from above, at the pond overlook along the walking trail at the top of the hill and, from below, on the boardwalk that extends into the pond itself. Bring binoculars to fully enjoy these popular bird watching spots.

The following is taken from the article "Mary Point Pond, St John" by Jim Riddle, Robert Norton and Thelma Douglas appearing in Herbert A. Raffaele's authoritative book, Birds of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands:

Nestled behind Mary Point, the northernmost point of St. John is one of the island's most productive birding spots. This pond, the nearby forest and the Francis Bay shoreline provide the observer with a great variety of birdlife at any time of the year. The brackish pond is rimmed by mangroves and other salt tolerant vegetation, which harbor migrants and local specialties such as Mangrove Cuckoo, Scaly-naped Pigeon, White-cheeked Pintail and Smooth-billed Ani. There also are opportunities for good views of a variety of waterfowl, herons, shorebirds and warblers. Along the beach and rocky shoreline, Brown Booby, Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird and various terns can be seen offshore.

Francis Bay Beach and the Salt Pond
The path descends to the northern portion of Francis Bay Beach. At this point, you can go on to the beach or turn left to follow the trail along the edge of the salt pond. There are benches and a boardwalk on the banks of the salt pond from which this unique habitat can be comfortably observed. The trail continues alongside the pond until it emerges from the mangroves at the main road near the beach at Francis Bay.

Salt Pond, Francis Bay Trail, St. John, US Virgin Islands

Fruit trees
Several genip trees can be found along the walking trail and bordering the beach road. There are large tamarind trees just behind the sand at the northern end of the beach. Both varieties produce edible fruit. Enjoy them.

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