Friday, February 23, 2018

A model for the Southland

Rancho Quemado Park...

To most people, Rancho Quemado is one of those places where you find yourself scrambling for a map to find its location. Sometimes it is not on the map at all. You have to find Palo Seco and Erin, and somehow gauge its position between these.

All that is about to change as the newly opened Rancho Quemado Agro-Eco Tourism Park has mapmakers updating their respective productions.

Walking through the grounds of the park you could see how manager Mark Andrews visualised the potential of this deep south area and made his ideas for its sustainable development a reality.

The park is part of Rancho Quemado Estates Ltd and occupies five of the total 45 acres of land. To see schoolchildren eagerly awaiting their turn on the see-saws and swings in the mini play park or peering at the birds and animals in the mini zoo while the adults indulge in some fishing from the jetty, nature trailing along the walkways or just relaxing in one of the sheds is a long-standing vision of Andrews.

"The estate originally comprised cocoa, coffee and citrus, as is typical of these southern areas. When I came here, it was abandoned. Gradually through rehabilitation, the estate came to life in 2006.

"I used to note the tilapia and the natural spring fed ponds on the estate. As tilapia is a species that multiplies rapidly, this inspired me to build concrete ponds to mind them. I did a course in aquaculture to boost the success of this initiative.

"Looking at the cocoa and citrus on the estate, I envisaged a thriving industry here, so I did courses in cocoa and citrus production; and in 2007, we started production with just four workers. With advice from the Cocoa Research Unit, today production is an integral part of the estate."

The estate also has a flourishing bee community, as Andrews has added apiculture to the estate's functions. At present, there is a fully operational "honey room" where presentations on bee keeping and the production of honey are done.

In 2008, the Brash family, owners of the estate, produced the first set of Cocobel chocolates. Cocobel is made from the Trinitario cocoa beans harvested from the estate.

The estate was by now thriving under the management of Andrews. However, being the enterprising person that he is, he took it one step further.

"One day as I was on my daily walk through the estate, I said to myself—why not make a nature trail? I contacted the Wild Life Division for advice on the housing of endangered species. I got some cages and collected a donation of a pair of scarlet macaws from the Damus Company.

"I travelled up the islands of the Caribbean and got insights into the running of an eco-park. This is how we constructed walkways throughout the grounds and brought our mini zoo on-stream. Signage on the cages and on the trees helps to educate everyone on the importance of our natural habitats.

"Of course when you think about children coming to admire the animals, you realise that a play park is a must. It follows that sheds for the grown-ups to relax while the children play are also important.

"The estate is blessed with a natural spring that has maintained a continuous flow since when it was first discovered in 1927. We channeled this water to create a fishing area downstream. The waterfall that adorns the park has been created by pumping the water from the dam below. This is all done to enhance the beauty and enjoyment of the park.

"We do go out to schools during the week to do presentations and collect bookings. Children's minds are like the young branches of a tree. You can shape them to grow along the direction you want them to blossom. From there, they continue to bring forth new fruit on their own. The older ones have already done their part in providing shelter and nurturing."

On the opening day of the park, schools, families, church groups and a cross-section of community groups received 45-minute tours with the three resident tour guides under the vigilant patrol of the company's security firm.

Sample giveaways of jars of cocoa butter, honey, cocoa powder and even live tilapia were distributed. Informative leaflets on the animals and birds were also available to the children. These hand-outs will be offered to visitors on a continuing basis.

The Rancho Quemado Agro-Eco Tourism Park is open everyday from 9 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. at an entrance fee of $40. Visitors 65 years and over, and two years and under, enjoy free access to the park.