Yesterday, Rainforest Adventures opened its doors to a select audience, ahead of its official opening on Friday. This weekend, locals with a thirst for adventure will be able to hop on the Soualiga Sky Explorer for a peaceful trip to the top of Sentry Hill, located at the Rockland Estate, part of the Emilio Wilson Estate for a reduced price of $54 for adults and $39 for children and seniors. The real adventurers have the option to take the spectacular Flying Dutchman zip line from the top all the way down in around thirty seconds.
There is still plenty of work to be done before the adventure park is in top shape. Roads have to be paved, wooden structures still are waiting for a lick of paint, but the Sky Explorer is working, as is the zip line. Emilio Wilson’s house has been turned into a museum and the former boiler house is now a restaurant, run by Norman and Sue Wathey, that will open its doors to the public on Friday as well.
The protests against the establishment of the adventure park seems to have fizzled. Environmentalists, bent on preserving the Emilio Wilson Estate as the country’s protected land-based nature reserve, have always staunchly opposed the project.
In November 2011, the Rainforest company placed a vacancy ad for a park manager, a move that took environmentalist by surprise. Rueben Thompson, at the time vice president of the Pride Foundation and currently secretary-general at the ministry of Justice, said that Pride is against the project.
“The whole plan needs to go through an environmental, cultural and social impact assessment. That needs to be done by an independent organization and then that assessment needs to be reviewed by the environmental organizations,” Thompson said at the time.
Thompson also criticized Rainforest’s claim to blue flag certification. “What they claim is a copy cat of the eco-label we have for marinas and beaches. It is an eco-label from Costa Rica, called Bandera Azul Ecologica and it has absolutely nothing to do with our internationally recognized Blue Flag program.”
But Rainforest Adventures President Josef Preschel said in 2015 in an exclusive interview with the Today newspaper: “Parks are carefully planned to have a minimal footprint, connect visitors to nature, provide education on the importance of nature conservation and support local employment.”
Preschel also said on that occasion that the economic impact of the adventure park will be significant. “The economic impact to St Maarten should not be ignored. In addition to lease payments to government, new permanent sources of tax revenues from employment, restaurants, merchandising and transportation will be created for the island, while increasing the tourist experience significantly,”
Currently, the adventure park is employing around fifty people, a number that could go up to around one hundred by the time all the attractions that are still in the works become operational.
Among the small crowd that got its first taste of the Soualiga Sky Explorer and the Flying Dutchman was environmentalist Mark Yokoyama – an indication that not all environmentalists have turned their back on the project.
The trip up the hill with the Sky Explorer is relaxed and peaceful. Visitors travel in groups of four in the chairlifts in two stages all the way to the top of Sentry Hill. On a beautiful day, the view is to kill for. and it certainly offers a fresh perspective on what St. Maarten actually looks like.
On top of the hill – elevation 1,125 feet (343 meters) - several platforms offer visitors a good look at the world around them. They see Philipsburg, Cole Bay, the airport, Saba, Statia, St. Barths, Anguilla and Nettle Bay – just to name a few examples. Some may be able to identify their own home from this height.
See the spectacular views online here
The trip down is either calmly with the Sky Explorer, or a big rush with the Flying Dutchman zip line. Many opted for the zip line. Rainforest says that this is the steepest zip line in the world. The drop is 1,050 feet (320 meters) over a distance of 2,800 feet (853 meters).
In 2018, Rainforest will add the Sentry Hill zip line, a one thousand meter long four-span line that traverses the mountain ridge. Another attraction is the schooner ride, whereby visitors will be able to surf down the mountain from the midway point of the Sky Explorer through a 40-inch (1 meter) tube over a 657 foot (200 meter) track of curves and straightaways.
The Rainforest Adventure Park was designed as an additional land-based attraction for especially cruise tourists. Hurricane Irma has obviously thrown a spanner in the works and the park will for the foreseeable future have to reckon with a lower number of visitors.
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