A fantastic, first, full day in Costa Rica started “mucho frio” with rain, wind, a little bit of fog, and the group heading (somewhat apropos) to a rain forest. Upon arrival in the “Parco Nazionale del Agua San Juan de la Montagna” the group was greeted by two professors at TEC, Olivier (name) and Arnoldo (name). Both Olivier and Arnoldo are environmental scientists specializing in the field of amphibian research and soil research respectively. During the morning the group was treated to a series of lectures regarding the history and foundation of the park, the role of a social cooperative group in the development of the park, and the story of amphibians, specifically Green-eyed frogs, which reside in the park.
Unlike other national parks in Costa Rica, this park was not designed for tourism, but rather education and research. It was founded ~ 14 years ago by a group of concerned citizens who have received millions of dollars in loans and donations to purchase land from private landowners in order to preserve the most precious resource we have, water, hence the name of the park. The mountains encompassed in the park are the source of water for 150 communities in the Alaluela and San Jose provinces. In addition, to the utilization of water for human consumption, hydroelectric power generated by the water sourced in the park, provides 83% of the electricity needs of northern Costa Rica. A very large social cooperative named Coopalesca (which has over 70,000 members) was able to raise the money to preserve the area. These members, by pledging only 50 cents per year, have been able to protect and conserve over 1100 hectares (~2500 acres) of precious land for posterity, creating a truly social national park that is unique in the world. Meanwhile Coopalesca, has provided a significant and reliable source of energy for Northern Costa Rica, and received an award in 2013 for being the first carbon neutral energy distributor in Costa Rica.
Beyond water, the other main impetus for preserving the land is the fact that it is home to an endemic frog species (the Green-eyed frog), which was first discovered in San Juan de la Montagna in 2007 by our host Olivier and colleagues. This frog, which is officially listed as vulnerable on the IUCN’s red list, is now only found in this park and in the neighboring Monteverde National Park between the elevation of 1700 and 2500 m (~5300-8000 feet).
After the lectures were completed, the group were then led on a circa 4 mile (round trip) hike through the National Park to a beautiful greenish-blue lagoon known as Pozo Verde. On this hike, the students, who were partnered with Costa Rican students from TEC, walked through diverse ecosystems of ever-changing tree species, flowers, plants, etc. They hiked through fields and over rock scrambles, appreciating the true beauty of this diverse countryside. The late afternoon was marked by beautiful sunshine and fresh mountain air accompanying a breathtaking ride back down into Ciudad Quesada.