The Easter holidays are the times when Belizeans do the most traveling in and around the country.
This past Easter, Valarie Woods and her family made a special journeyed to explore the natural wonders of the Chiquibul forest nestled deep inside the Mountain Pine Ridge range, in the Cayo District.
But Woods and her family were not alone. They had made the trip to the Chiquibul, with other like-minded campers from Friends of Conservation and Development. From out of that Easter vacation trip was born the idea for the Chiquibul National Symposium, which will be held on July 19, at the Radison Fort George Hotel.
Once they were camped out in the forest, the disturbing evidence of illegal logging and other human activities that were deemed harmful to the natural balance of the Chiquibul became apparent.
“We kept hearing chainsaws and seeing evidence of tracks,” Woods said.
As a consequence of this, a healthy discussion ensued between Woods, who had worked with the Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT), and the Friends of Conservation and Development, who were her fellow campers.
“There and then I decided to sign up to be a friend of the Chiquibul,” Woods recalled.
“After that, we decided to have further discussion to determine what was going on in one of the most beautiful areas of the country that seems to be under a very serious threat.
What can I do to help, as a volunteer member of Friends of Conservation?” Woods pondered.
So after brain-storming the issue of the threat to the Chiquibul, they came up with the idea for a National Symposum on the Chiquibul.
“The idea is to generate awareness to a wide cross-section of the Belizean public,” Woods explained. “The Chiquibul Symposium is being done with support of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Forestry Department.”
Woods said that the National Symposium on the Chiquibul is not just from a conservation standpoint. The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Chief Forest Officer as well as the Belize Defense Force Commander are key to the discussion, because they are very familiar with the realities there.
“We felt that the business sector would lend a lot of credibility to the discussion, after having done presentations to them,” Woods added. “A lot of work is being done on the symposium in a collaborative manner.”
This symposium arose out of a need to raise awareness of the Belizean public, because of what we witnessed. It became evident to me that a lot of people don’t know enough about the Chiquibul.
Woods explained that it is not just about the illegal activities, but why that area is so critical to Belize’s development. We are talking watershed and the need for that watershed quality to be preserve. Not just for the communities of Guatemala that depends on it, but for Belize and Belize City. We are talking about gold and other minerals.
When asked about the incursions inside the Chiquibul, Woods said that every year, hundreds of Guatemalans go into the forest to do all kinds of illegal activities.
“There is a very strong tourism potential for the Chiquibul that is yet to be developed, both soft as well as extreme adventure tourism. There is also a very strong cultural resource with the Caracol natural monument as well. It is also a major anchor point for tourism in the Mountain Pine Ridge area,” Woods pointed out.
The Chiquibul Forest encompass over 437,000 acres that represents 7.7% of Belize’s landmass and is the largest bloc of protected area in Belize.
In 1938, the Carocol Archeological Reserve was first discovered. The Chiquibul Forest Reserve was established in 1956 and the Chiquibul National Park was established in 1991.
The Caracol Maya Site and the Chiquibul Caves System are among the four “unique tourism assets” cited in the Belize National Sustainable Tourism Master Plan.