Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sustainability, Its a Lifestyle

The most spectacular thing about being in the jungle is not the breathtaking sight of sitting on the riverbank watching the crystal clear water cascade 45 feet below, or sliding down the zip line cables over the river, or the view from the top of the mountain ridge overlooking miles of rainforest, but the connection to the wildness of nature and the jungle that surrounds The Finca. The most rewarding part about dedicating time to a business invested in the future of the rainforest and creating a safe place for guest to connect with the environment. The time spent here in Costa Rica working through projects to help The Finca develop projects that further sustainability for the future. There is immense pleasure in getting your hands dirty, metaphorically, but also taking the opportunities to plunge your hands in the dirt and work the garden. The Finca is focusing it’s energies towards complete farm to table, and working directly with the plants shows you directly where the produce comes from, and then you use it in the kitchen at dinnertime. Stakes have been planted and cards have been written to describe the plants grown in the garden, and how they’re used in meals. These steps are critical in continuing the lifestyle of sustainability here. They provide an intimate sense of connecting those at The Finca to a life created around the environment.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Life in the Jungle is not quite as luxurious as it sounds. The energy and materials required to keep this business running are not free and come at the expense of the environment. The problem though, is that not every scrap of material and food is used or composted. Through thorough examination and exhaustive conversation with management, We found some solutions to the areas of excess waste to be mitigated and up cycled. First up on the chopping block is the wine bottle corks from happy hour drinks. It seems small and insignificant, but it is often the little things that get pushed aside in businesses. Discussion behind those tiny bits of garbage turned to a the set up of a collection system to construct a cork-board for guests to hang pictures or hang up a map and have guests pin where they’re from. This provides an interactive way for guests to see materials being reused instead of being tossed into a bag that goes away to a dump. The kitchen is a prime source for waste and majority is concentrated around food or the kitchen materials. At the sound of the breakfast bell, a platter of fresh fruit from the garden is served. Any breakfast buffet yields an excess of this fruit. The sad truth is that not all of it gets eaten. There is a silver lining though; it gets composted! But wouldn’t it be better to set up a stand off the balcony to invite butterflies and wildlife to snack on the remains? We agree. Furthermore, hundreds of dainty white napkins are expensed fro meals each quarter. Unlike the paper towels purchased, these napkins are bleached white and cannot be added to the compost. Solution: cut spending on these napkins and redirect those funds to purchase cloth napkins and rings. This is a larger upfront cost, but the savings will arise in the long run.

El Agua es la Vida - Water is Life

Water is the most sacred and valuable resource in the American West. Growing up in Colorado, we are conditioned early on to conserve this precious resource. We are trained to follow the flow of the mighty Colorado River and watch the snowpack diligently, analyzing the accumulation for the upcoming water year. The tropics of Costa Rica defy all what I’ve come to know about water. I find myself struggling with my preconceptions of the rivers, the ecosystems surrounding, and the people who depend upon it. I’ve trekked through the Rocky Mountains chasing the rivers that support my secluded lifestyle, and now I navigate through the Costa Rican jungle following Rio Bellavista, in search of understanding how they use water and make the river work for them. The top of the ridge along the edge of the property is host to a fresh mountain spring. The quality of the water has been preserved with a clever tank and plants (that do not translate to English well) that oxygenate the water. From there, gravity works for the Ticas (Costa Ricans) of The Finca and the pipes take water along and down the ridge into larger storage tanks that then distribute the water to the houses across the several hundred acres. This system is simple yet effective and provides water to guests and staff of The Finca throughout the busy months in high season. The tanks can then be filled in a sequential order by a simple toilet like fill system. There is additional tanks at base camp in which collect rainwater and is stored and used as graywater (In the toilets in the Rancho and shoers at base camp). This is a critical system for additional water needs during peak season. There is also hope to increase efficiency and sustainability through a 60 KW hydroelectric system, however there are legality issues concerning the river and the need to alter the channel to be at desired capacity. The Finca is pushing sustainability for a growing community and conserving the most precious resource.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Into the Jungle

There's a remote space in the Osa Province of Costa Rica that time seems to escape. Finca Bellavista (The Finca) is a sustainable treehouse community nestled away that provides an experience like no other. The property extends far into the jungle that creates the space for guests to venture into the wildness of La Florida de Piedras Blancas and reconnect with nature from a new perspective. As a volunteer over the last week, I have meandered along the trails guiding travellers to their treehouse away from home. Here people have the opportunity to coexist alongside the jungle wildlife. I am building new ties to the land and the people of Finca Bellavista. My time here thus far has taught me about the dedication and consciousness that goes into the materials and resources that are necessary to keep this business operational. Volunteers are inspired to put their heart and soul into further pursuing work in sustainability and living more sustainably on this earth. Rio (river) Bellavista and Rio Piedras Blancas flow into the heart of base camp providing relief from the heat of the sun. In contrast to Gunnison, The Finca does not consume the water from the river. Water here is conserved and treasured, but the water infrastructure is different here. (to be covered next week) The future of sustainability is in the hands of those inspired to the commitment of a sustainable future.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Fire research close to home

A very interesting study was done right here in Colorado by students from the school of Mines. They looked into the Clear Creek Watershed and how it is affected by wildfires. Specifically they focused the study on the Golden Water Treatment Plant. Within their study they used GIS software to analyze which areas are most susceptible to floods and erosion. Then they also used GIS to determine which areas out of the most susceptible would be the most prone to wildfires based on vegetation and aspect and slopes. Studies such as this one are extremely helpful and can be applied to other areas to figure out just how fires area affecting our water systems and therefore affects us directly. I think there should be more funding applied to encourage more studies like this one to be implemented. If we can gain more knowledge on areas that will be more prone to fires we can also put more effort into fire prevention in those areas and hopefully keep fires from happening altogether. Research is the way that we can gain a upper hand and figure out how to make fire work in our favor rather than against us.

My Encounter With Stephen Pyne

Throughout my research I stumbled upon a book by Stephen J. Pyne called, Fire on the Rim: A Firefighter’s Season at the Grand Canyon. This book encompasses 15 seasons of fire experience compiled into one summer. Pyne reflects on his experiences as a wildland firefighter and even occasionally challenges the Park Service that he was employed by. This book is not just some boring reiteration of wildfires that leaves you falling asleep and putting the book away never to open it again. It draws you in and keeps you turning pages, refusing to put the book down until you reach the end of the current adventure only to find the last page and that you’ve finished the book. I promise that if you read this book you will not regret the experience. Each reflection and story pulls you in to a point that you feel like you are right there on the front lines staring down the hot flames with a shovel in hand. I learned from Pyne that these treacherous events have an element of beauty to them and that element is a sense of kinship that is built through personal relationships. I have been fortunate enough to have had some wildland firefighting experiences of my own and I have found that these firefighters are more than rugged, unbathed, harsh individuals, they are kind, funny and I have no doubt that these people that I have just met would lay their lives on the line in order to help each other. So while fire is so dangerous and devastating, it also has a way of creating some very beautiful things that flourish in its absence.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Colorado's Ever Growing Fires

How is Colorado suffering from fire? As many of you know, the fires around Colorado seem to be getting bigger and bigger. For many homeowners that is a terrifying thing as the wildfires are building in intensity and claiming more and more of our beautiful state. But why is this happening? In the past we have let our fear take over and we have spent enormous amounts of money, resources and even the lives of brave individuals to save homes. In these frantic efforts to protect the things we hold dear to our hearts, we have created more of a problem. Through fire suppression we have stopped a natural occurrence that historically would thin the understory and clear the dead fallen debris and ground litter. These natural occurrences even acted as pest control. The bark beetle that we are unfortunately becoming all too familiar with here, feeds on trees, however, they rely on the canopies of trees touching so they can pass from tree to tree. When fires were more common, they acted as nature’s logger and maintained separation between the trees and kept diseases and insects from spreading so rapidly and vastly. Currently to help prevent fires there are measures like removing the beetle killed trees and replanting saplings in hopes of rebuilding the forest before a fire can completely wipe out the massive dead areas. This seems counterintuitive due to the fact that I mentioned that one of the issues is that we are stopping fires however, simply allowing them to claim entire forests isn’t the best way to go about it either.