The delicate balance of Monteverde

Visiting Monteverde and learning about its history while enjoying the beauty of the natural land was incredible. The Quackers that settled in Monteverde during the 1950s had a big impact on how the land came to develop. While they did not always fully understand the importance of conserving natural lands and creating a sustainability community, they maintained contacts with people from outside Costa Rica that eventually introduced these ideas to the area. Coming from an outside perspective, the Quakers had a greater appreciation of how special the natural land around Monteverde was than the natives who lived there their whole lives. Many locals had little to compare the land they were settled on to and took for granted its beauty and did not fully grasp its ecological importance. The Quakers had a net positive impact on the region by introducing the idea that it was important to maintain a balance of environmental, economic, and social sustainability in their communities rather than just focusing on growing larger communities. Had it not been for the Quakers, it is possible that Monteverde today would look very different today, with much of the land deforested and replaced with large farms or plantations.

Of course, the Quakers do not deserve all of the credit. Had the locals not been receptive to the outside ideas introduced by the Quackers about sustainability, than the Quakers campaigns to conserve natural lands and promote sustainability would have had a much smaller impact. Many locals in the region have embraced the values of sustainability, like the families of Life Monteverde, which have actively worked to create communities that have a limited environmental impact while fostering healthy economies that respect the dignity of workers.

An unintended consequence of these conservation and sustainability practices is the rise of tourism to the area. In many ways, the rise of tourism has enabled the local community to better live out their sustainable ideals. Life Monteverde took the profits they use from tourism and education programs to support the benefits they offer to their workers and to implement more environmentally friendly farming practices, which would otherwise not be within the company’s budget. The influx of tourists also brought new job opportunities to local people at the hotels, souvenir shops, adventure tours, and farm tours that have cropped up all over the Monteverde region for tourists. On the other hand, this new service based economy centered around tourism threatens the traditional and more agriculturally focused culture of the local and Quacker groups that settled the land before tourists arrived. Additionally, investment from foreign companies that have noticed the surge of tourism to the region serves to extract wealth that was generated in the region back to these investors instead of the local economy. Many of these foreign investors do not appreciate sustainability the same way the locals have come to, and may promote wasteful and unsustainable practice in their attempts to appeal to tourists. This would undermines the efforts to create a sustainable community from the people who have been living in Monteverde for decades.

Overall, I think ecotourism to Monteverde has been a net positive for the region, but it is important that foreign investment is kept in check and not allowed to undermine the culture of sustainability developed over decades by Quakers and native Costa Ricans in the area. Tourists should research the places they plan to do business with before making purchases to ensure they are not endorsing poor sustainability practices with their purchases. Locals must continue to work together to make their communities sustainable and not allow the influence of tourists or investors to make them lose sight of their unique heritage, culture, and sustainable practices.

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