According to the Department of Environment (DOE), approximately 4,111 acres of land across the Cayman Islands are now designated as public protected areas under the National Conservation Law. The protected land includes acreage in the Barkers peninsula, an area slated by the Cayman Islands Government in the late 1990s for the creation of a National Park.
The status of the proposed park has received renewed attention in the local media following the announcement that Calico Jack’s Bar & Grill will be moving to two parcels of land owned by Dart in the area. The parcels in question are located outside of the proposed National Park and are currently zoned for Hotel/Tourism.
Handel Whittaker, owner of Calico Jack’s and Dart tenant, announced his decision in August, 2018, and submitted a Coastal Works Licence Application (CWLA) in October, 2018, to construct a dock in front of the two parcels within a Marine Replenishment Zone.
Kenneth Hydes, Vice President Special Projects & Partnerships at Dart, says that Dart, as the primary private landowner in the area, has previously engaged in discussions with the Government to facilitate the creation of the national park.
“Dart fully supports the creation of a national park in the Barkers peninsula that will enable both environmental conservation and low-impact recreational enjoyment,” Mr. Hydes says. “While no two national parks are the same, a hallmark of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) definition of a Category II protected area is that it supports environmentally and culturally compatible recreational and visitor opportunities.”
While the planned Calico Jack’s is located outside of the proposed boundaries of the Barkers National Park, Mr. Hydes says that he hopes the recent attention will spur renewed action on behalf of the Government to share Dart’s vision and formally create the park.
“The people have made it clear that they want to see the Barkers National Park become a reality and now it is up to our elected officials and senior civil servants to enable that process in partnership with Dart as the primary private landowner in the area,” Mr. Hydes says. “We look forward to resuming our talks with the Government.”
Mr. Whittaker says he aims to create a “Rum Point-style” destination in the Barkers area for visitors and residents to enjoy.
“The intention is to create a beach destination similar to Rum Point in terms of providing low-impact nature tourism and much-needed public amenities,” he said. “In fact, the Rum Point development is also located within a Marine Replenishment Zone in the North Sound.”
With the Seven Mile Beach area becoming more congested, Mr. Whittaker says the relocation presents the opportunity to expand his current operations and develop a unique beach experience that will diversify the country’s offerings to visitors and locals.
“A new tourism amenity is desperately needed to ensure we can manage current visitor numbers and create another option for residents to enjoy, especially on the weekends,” Mr. Whittaker says. “This represents a significant opportunity for the West Bay community in terms of job creation, business opportunities, and making Barkers a safer area for everyone.”
Mr. Whittaker notes the dock at the new Calico Jack’s will enable partnerships with small boat tour operators in the area.
“The area is quite shallow so only smaller crafts will be able to use the dock, but I am sure it will also be used by the many line fishermen in the area as docks often become havens for marine life,” he says.
As for what the terrestrial development will look like, Mr. Whittaker says the designs are still in the concept phase.
“It’s a blank canvas at the moment,” he says. “But what is finalised will respect the natural Barkers setting, the 130-foot setback requirement, and public access rights.”
Whether it’s line-fishing, Easter camping or horseback riding, Barkers has a well-established range of community use.
“Calico Jack’s new location will complement the ways in which visitors and residents currently enjoy the Barkers area,” he says. “It will provide much-needed public amenities and promote the upkeep of the area, just as Calico Jack’s did on Seven Mile Beach when I opened it there 15 years ago.”
Mr. Whittaker notes the application has prompted a great deal of speculation in the local community.
“There is a lot of concern in the community about what this development might mean for the area but the spirit of Calico Jack’s will remain the same as it always has – a fun, laidback beach experience in a beautiful setting that will keep visitors and residents coming back for more.”
In other news