600-km Ecotourism Trail Under Way in the Sierra Madre
ecotourism trail under way in the Sierra Madre
First posted 10:01pm (Mla time) Dec 05, 2005
By Blanche Rivera
Inquirer Editor's Note: Published on Page A7 of the December 6, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
IT'S NO YELLOW BRICK ROAD but it has all the trappings of a wonderland.
The Sierra Madre Mountains, the country's longest mountain range and one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world, is being primed to become the top ecohistorical tourism destination in the Philippines.Environmentalists and local governments launched last week the 600-km Sierra Madre Trail, a unique trek through the 1.4-million ha. mountain range that is home to 3,500 species of plants and the widest variety of birds in Luzon.Experts from Miriam PEACE (Public Education and Awareness Campaign for the Environment) mapped out a trail from Palaui Island i n Cagayan, the northernmost tip of the Sierra Madre, to the UP Land Grant in Quezon, south of Metro Manila, as an ecotourism zone. Miriam PEACE, the outreach arm of Miriam College's Environmental Studies Institute, is convenor and manager of the Sierra Madre Trail (SMT) program.Appalachian Trail Inspired Print this storySend this storyWrite the editorReprint this articleView other stories by the Appalachian Trail in the United States, the 600-km trail features over 200 destinations in the nine provinces traversed by the Sierra Madre mountains: Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Aurora, Nueva Ecija, Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Quezon."This is the first biodiversity corridor trail in the country," Donna Paz Reyes, Miriam PEACE project coordinator, said during the trail's launch at Miriam College's mini-forest Tuesday night.The Sierra Madre range is one of only th ree biodiversity corridors in the Philippines identified by Conservation International. The other two are in Palawan and eastern Mindanao.Bird watchingA biodiversity corridor is a gateway to critical ecosystems that boast of wide varieties of plants and animals, including species found only in the Philippines, as well as species threatened with extinction.The 600-km trail is punctuated by the best bird-watching points; the areas with the most diverse flower species, and other flora and fauna; and sites for religious rites and other cultural experiences."The idea is to have a single ecohistorical tourist destination with focus on its biodiversity corridor," Miriam PEACE said in a statement.Three-pronged
The Sierra Madre trail is three-pronged. A lowland road trail, a mountain foot trail and a coastal trail.The lowland trail follows the national highways from Metro Manila: the Maharlika Highwa y in the north and the Marilaque Highway in the south.Interesting points on the lowland trail are the Peñablanca Protected Landscape, Biak-na-Bato National Park, Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park, and the Capisaan Caves in Nueva Vizcaya. To the south are the Pamintinan Caves and Avelon Zoo in Rizal.One week Reyes said a week would be "comfortable enough" to take in the wonders of the lowland trail, but to fully experience the nature and culture of the north would require about a month.The coastal trail features beaches, surfing and dive sites, and towns on Luzon's Pacific coast that can be reached primarily by boat. One such place is the Baler-Palanan trail whose coastline is noted for waves ideal for surfing.The mountain foot trail is arguably the most challenging of the three options and is expected to be the most popular among foreign trekkers and mountaineers, Reyes said.Safety issueMiriam PEACE is still developing a single trail for t he mountain foot path and working with local governments to ensure safety both for the locals and local flora and fauna.The Aguinaldo trail is one tour package that would be offered when the Sierre Madre Trail opens in February. It follows the route of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, the Philippines' first president, when he crossed the Sierre Madre from San Mariano to Palanan to escape pursuing American forces during the Philippine-American War.Local guidesReyes said the local governments in areas covered by the foot trail would accredit guides who not only know their way around the forests but are familiar with the biodiversity sites.The local guides would accompany tourists and educate them on the importance of preserving the Sierra Madre Mountains. The local governments would identify safe areas that could be opened up to tourists.Environmentalists are promoting ecotourism as a viable development option for the country, which is being marketed by the government as one of the best mining sites in the world.Population pressurePopulation pressure is also taking a toll on the forests. Around 10 million people live in the Sierra Madre, among them the Dumagats, Kalingas, Ibanags, and Bugkalots."With the damaging effects of environmental problems, there is a need to unify conservation initiatives... to ensure the harmonious co-existence of people and nature in the long term," Miriam PEACE said.Reyes admits it's a long way to go for Sierra Madre's caretakers and visitors, but because they are on the right track, the journey can't be that bad.