Who really owns Shark River? This was the question asked by Jose Marcano, of the St Helena/Matelot Farmers on the Move organisation, when senior officials from the Forestry Division stopped his group from maintaining the nature park there, last Thursday.
Shark River, in Matelot, is so named because at one time visitors would witness sharks swimming up the river from the nearby sea. The crystal-clear water is surrounded by lush vegetation which gives it an emerald-green hue
Water gushes over rocks at Shark River.
Sunday Newsday was contacted by an official from the Forestry Division under the national parks section of the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries to visit the site because a group of people were illegally charging members of the public a fee to park close to the river
Sunday Newsday was told the fee was $30 a carload
In an interview at the river in Matelot on Thursday, Marcano said he did not mind that someone had reported the group to the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries, because something needs to be done to maintain the nature park for its visitors. Since he could remember, he said, no one from the ministry used to visit the site to clean the area, and most visitors left the riverbank in a horrible condition, with garbage, faeces and other items
“After having several discussions with the head of the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation Mr Terry Rondon and the alleged owner of the property, the group started maintaining the river in 2011,” he said. “No one comes up here to take care of the place. We took it upon ourselves to make the river clean again. We used to take money out of our own pockets to cut the grass, overgrown trees, buy garbage bags to dispose of garbage.”
Jose Marcano says the St Helena/Matelot Farmers on the Move organisation used fees collected from visitors to maintain Shark River.
Marcano said the group decided to charge visitors, but all funds collected were used to develop the river for its visitors
“One thing I can say, we never took money from the public without giving them a receipt and a stamp from community development, because our group is registered under the Ministry of Community Development,” he added, “We also explained to the visiting public what the money was going to be used for.”
However, Marcano said he felt sad that the project will be stopped until after an investigation to ascertain the legitimate owners of the land
“I really enjoyed coming out here with some of our youth to help keep the place clean, and it is heartbreaking to know the place might get back to how it used to be with garbage because of poor management
Jose Marcano, of the St Helena/Matelot Farmers on the Move organisation, shows garbage the group cleaned in the vicinity of Shark River.
“People come from all over the world to visit the river, and to have it in a deplorable condition will not do good to promote the country for nature-seekers.”
When contacted, Rondon said he didn’t believe the group had done anything wrong, but meant to made Toco proud. He knew about the project and had several discussions with the group leading up to the maintenance of Shark River. He said the group has been doing well for the community and the river
“I want to say this loud and clear: in this country, when people try their best to do good, other people will come and try to disrupt the good work of other people. I have met with the group on several occasions and have asked them if they can help me maintain Shark River.”
He said a a lot of visitors passed through the site, and there were security issues
“There is no one there to look after the place, and people used to come and do what they want. There is no toilet facility in place
“We all decided, after consultation with (the owner), the group will get a document to go ahead and take care of the place.”
Rondon said it was very sad to hear the project had been stopped, because the toilet facilities were almost completed, after requests from visitors. He said several attempts had been made to get the Ministry of Tourism to install toilets
“They refused to put toilets despite our plight. I really don’t know if it is state land, but this group went out of their way to help up keep the site clean and safe over the years.”
He wanted to meet with the ministry officials on the way forward and hoped the public would hear about the issue, so that the hard work of the St Helena/Matelot Farmers on the Move would not go down the drain
Toilets were being built by the St Helena/Matelot Farmers on the Move organisation. The Forestry Division has halted construction of facilities saying the community group is not authorised to do so.
But Dr Fabian Ramlahal, head of the national parks section in the Forestry Division, which officially manages the river, said for the group to charge the public to park near the river was absolutely wrong, and the ministry has shut down the project via oral warnings until the investigation is completed to verify which piece of land Marcano was referring to as private property. He warned the group could be charged for wrongfully cutting trees and fraud
Speaking at the site, Ramlahal said,”Shark River is state land. He will have to report to us before next week with all his documents. He claimed when he arrived here the area was forested and they cut it
“They explained they have been coming to the park as children and it was free – and since when forestry started charging people?
“Mr Marcano has also installed six structures, which include toilets and changing rooms for the public to pay to use the facilities, but we did not approve that.”
Ramlahal said the river is to provide outdoor recreation opportunities for the public and the ministry does not deny or charge for access. He pointed to a sign that lay on the ground which read Matura National Park
“We try to promote interaction with nature; therefore it is free. People don’t pay to use most of the parks in other recreational sites throughout TT, which include Cleaver Woods, Main Ridge in Tobago, Fort George and River Estate, to name a few,” he added. “It is embarrassing to see our sign on the ground covered in grass and mud. They disregard the Forestry Division and the national park section. This sign clearly states this is from the ministry and is a national park.”