Cranbrook Flower Forest and River Head Adventure Trail, a unique Jamaican eco-tourism attraction, situated in the cool hills of Laughlands, in the garden parish of St. Ann, is moving to satisfy visitors’ requests to establish a facility to host large weddings and conferences. There are now plans to construct an auditorium, at an estimated cost of $5 million.
This 52-hectare (130 acre) attraction, ideal for nature lovers, weddings, family reunions, corporate fun days and educational tours, is located 28.8 kilometres (18 miles) west of the resort town of Ocho Rios.
Of the total number of hectares, the property devotes 36.4 hectares to the park and some 16 hectares in landscape, providing trails for bird watching, as well as the trail to the river-head – the jewel of the garden.
Manager, Ivan Lynton says the site has already been cleared for the auditorium, which is expected to accommodate 1,000 persons for gatherings such as weddings and conferences, which persons have been requesting on several occasions, to hold on the property.
Cranbrook, Mr. Linton says started some 30 years ago, “when the property was just allowed to grow into bush and forest, so the vegetation is naturally a Jamaican rain forest and gardens”.
“There are a variety of plants, but predominantly the ginger, 17 varieties, which come in all sort and colours – red, pink, and peach,” Mr. Linton adds, pointing out that the river-head, “though not much higher than the rest of the land, provides irrigation by gravity, with water flowing strongly throughout the gardens”.
He says the coolness and dampness of the area allows the plants to grow “at a rapid rate. We don’t fertilise because nature provides such an abundance, so we need not put in much manure”.
Another exciting attraction, Mr. Linton says is bird watching, explaining that since the trees had grown up, a lot of birds have been coming to the property. “At 6:00 in the morning bird watching is quite rewarding, when you can see a large number of humming birds, the occasional dove and the partridge”.
A favourite for many visitors to Cranbrook is the River Head Adventure Trail. It begins on the lawns of the entrance garden and takes a path through the beautiful gardens and walkways, making its way along the bank of the Little River, passing under a canopy of bamboo trees and then gently makes its way up into an unspoilt, natural tropical rain forest.
The sound of the water cascading over rocks and trees, reaching for the sky, heralds the approach to the cathedral-like gorge where the river rises from a pristine pool at the foot of the rocks – the river head.
Mr. Linton says the walk to the river-head takes about one or one-and-a-half hours, there and back, and the route provides breathtaking scenes for the visitor to enjoy. He says even an 80-year-old person can manage and enjoy the mild walk, adding that swimming is one of the activities done in a pond at the river-head.
“Our main attraction is the royal palm, which is a line of palm trees leading down to a large gazebo, from where we go on to Lawn Four, one of our four recreational areas, where visitors to the park can play cricket, volleyball or basketball, to provide needed fun and exercise in fresh air and a fresh environment,” he says.
The gazebo is a natural place for weddings, the Cranbrook Manager says, adding that many visitors to the facility expressed the desire to get married at that location. He says “there are either the ceremonies or the receptions or both, as people from as far as Westmoreland and Mandeville, and even bookings from abroad” use the facility for weddings.
Also provided on Lawn Four, are the ‘see-saw’ and swings and slides for children, in an effort to keep them occupied, and give them a full day’s experience as they enjoy their visit.
Noting that persons often asked if they could stop over on the property,
Mr. Linton says part of his future plans was to provide “inexpensive cottages for folk to make their holiday complete”.
Cranbrook was opened to the public in May 1997, with its flowering plants and ornamentals including orchids, begonias, gingers, heliconias, bird of paradise, yellow shrimp, ixora, hibiscus, red euphorbia, yellow allamandas, crotons, ferns, bromeliads, philodendron and a variety of palms.
The facility, which employs some 30 persons, opens seven days per week between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. The property is closed on Good Friday and Christmas Day.