Guardians of the Forest in Santa Fe National Park
The Santa Fe National Park is located in the province of Veraguas, in the midst of Panama’s central mountain range. The park was created in an effort to conserve natural woods, guarantee water sources, and perverse important ecological samples of the four vital foundations of life.
Due to its ecological importance, Santa Fe National Park is part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. The protected area includes the higher sector of the Santa Maria river and the entire mountainous area of Veraguas’ northern sector. This includes land inhabited by the Ngöbe-Buglé commarca, spanning from Colón to Coclé, and connecting to the Omar Torrijos Herrera National Park. There are six watersheds amongst the main rivers: Calovébora, Veraguas, Belén, Coclé del Norte, Santa María and Río Grande.
Today The Santa Fe National Park is one of the most visited places in the province due of the wealth of natural resources it possesses. Although it is a protected place, the area is still affected by human activity. To avoid further harm to the environment, a handful of families from the Las Llanitas community, on the way to Guabal, have formed a committee that aims to mitigate damages to ecosystems inside the park.
Marino Vázquez is one of the organizers of the local committee called CATUALLA. While the group supports tourism, the main goal of the 16 members is to, protect fauna, flora and complete ecosystem of the marvelous place they call home. These families, have become vital to the protection of the forest, constructing a small wooden house on the side of the road. The simple house, acts as a weekend refugee, from which they help keep the area clean, preventing visitors from damaging the environment.
The ‘guardians of the forest´, as they are known, maintain a vision of creating a network of rural communities. Local people strive to work together in organized manner to benefit the community through eco-tourism and increased protection of the environment.
“CATUALLA (Artesanal Llanita Touristic Committee) is a forest and water resource initiative. The organization works for the execution of sustainable development projects, aimed at protecting resources, while at the same time managing those resources for the benefit of the community.”
The committee has existed since 2005, and while the local municipality and ANAM know of their existence, CATUALLA lacks support from these authorities. Currently the committee is located near the river , where entire families work to clean the river and paths, offering visitors a better experience. This area is known as “Salto de Llanitas”, where a beautiful waterfall, more than 50 meters high emerges from the thick forest walls.
Mr. Marino, says that there are three places with potential as eco-tourism destinations inside the community. Among them are, the Salto de Llanitas falls, the Las Gemelas (the twins) waterfalls, and another beautiful swimming hole along the Calovebora river course. The area also offers petroglyphs, bringing a new element of ecological-historical tourism to the area.
“We can be your guide through this National Park, we know every corner and are able to take travelers to hidden places to enjoy an unforgettable day. A day, which will in turn, help support our families. We ask only that visitors respect the environment. Even small groups can have a big impact on the health of our environment and local communities. For us, it is important to bring about responsible tourism. Not only in a way that our families will benefit from, but also in a way that benefits future generations.”