Gourie, the gift granted for present and future generationsApr 24, 2018
- Protected Area poised for sustainable tourism that honours its biodiversity while paying the bills (PHOTO ALBUM BELOW)
Newly refurbished log cabins built on a steep rise command the best view of the Gourie Recreational Facility and a glimpse of the 109.5 hectare forest management area on which it sits.
These cabins, refurbished under a special livelihoods grant, will soon reopen for short rentals, offering an eco-tourism experience of the place that cradles part of the water supply for the parish of Manchester.
That water supply flows undisturbed through Gourie Cave, located a short four-wheel drive and trek from the recreational facility through a thick forest. Nastacia Brown, Forestry Department project officer explains that the forest filters harmful greenhouse gases, purifying the air and dispersing oxygen for the benefit of all. Then there are the birds which find refuge in Gourie’s undisturbed environment. These migratory and endemic birds and bats disperse the seeds that constantly expand the tree cover, maintaining the cycle of life, she points out.
Gourie, perched 2 000 ft. in the hills above Christiana, near central Jamaica’s coldest spot, Coleyville, is one of 249 Protected Areas secured by law in Jamaica. It offers a recreational area, multiple trails through biodiverse forest, a cave, and a history steeped in slavery. Now, months after the UN World Tourism Organisation's 'Global Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth for Sustainable Tourism' in Montego Bay, this Protected Area is ready to re-join the local and global sustainable tourism revolution on a stronger footing.
Logging on to the sustainable tourism revolution
Supporting eco-tourism and recreational use of this Protected Area’s forests and its resources is one of five strategic actions outlined in the 2014 Gourie Forest Management Plan by the Forestry Department which manages Gourie. The plan calls for positioning Gourie as a highly visible recreational tourism destination while conserving its natural resources. In 2013, one year prior to the publication of the Forest Management Plan, a feasibility study highlighted Gourie’s potential as a viable eco-tourism destination for local and international visitors.
“Sustaining Jamaica’s invaluable natural assets is important for the Forestry Department but this requires financial resources. Therefore, putting protected areas in a position to co-fund recurrent and management expenditures is critical”, UNDP Programmes Specialist, Richard Kelly explains.
This is why the Forestry Department’s application for a grant to generate revenue and enhance sustainable livelihoods while maintaining biodiversity at Gourie was favourably considered under the Strengthening the Operational and Financial Sustainability of the National Protected Area System (NPAS) project. In 2016, rehabilitation of Gourie became one of 12 projects awarded grants to ensure that those who make a living from Protected Areas protect their biodiversity, Kelly outlines.
The grant initiative was an important feature of the six year NPAS project, through which the Government of Jamaica aimed to consolidate the operational and financial sustainability of Jamaica’s national system of protected areas. The project, which ended in 2017 was supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), executed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and implemented by the Government of Jamaica through the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) in collaboration with the Forestry Department, Jamaica National Heritage Trust and the Fisheries Division.
The Forestry Department applied its NPAS grant to Gourie’s recreational area, refurbishing two of its three log cabins, one gazebo and public bathrooms, and installing new park benches, using green energy and other eco conscious methods.
Eco friendly fixes
These eco-friendly fixes ensured no damage was done to Gourie’s pristine environment. Two of three log cabins and the gazebo are dressed in non-toxic, environmentally friendly varnish. Solar panels have been placed on the log cabin roofs, capturing green energy while decreasing electricity consumption, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Forestry Department’s representatives Annmarie Bromfield, Forest Manager and Nastacia Brown, Project Officer, point out five new recreational tables and benches made from recycled materials. “Two solar panels were also installed to run hot water and LED bulbs have been installed on the grounds and within the refurbished infrastructures,” Brown says.
Today, Gourie is fully prepared to earn income from log cabin rentals and guided tours through the Forest Forest Management trails and its famous cave. Income will help maintain this Protected Area, and help sustain its public education programme.
Public education remains a key plank in the plan to sustain Gourie, as the Forestry Department seeks the public’s respectful interaction with Gourie’s assets, as well as an understanding of their role in sustaining its biodiversity for future generations.
Public education programme strengthened since refurbishment
The public education programme has already received a fresh wind since the refurbishment, Bromfield reports. Students are now hosted under the gazebo for public education talks, where before, their lessons were under the trees. “Now they are less distracted and ask more questions,” Bromfield reported.
The refurbished facilities are also being enjoyed by the neighbouring community pending official reopening. . While on tour of Gourie, a group of three neighbours strolled among the new picnic tables and the gazebo, basking in the crisp breeze under towering Caribbean pine trees. Forest Technician, Otway Elliot’ give talks to visitors, introducing them to Gourie’s rich history and natural assets, and imploring them to play their part in sustaining its benefits for all Jamaica. Elliot says rangers also ensure that farmers from the surrounding farming district do not cut trees for yam sticks and that stray animals do not graze on the rich plant life.
A past steeped in slavery
Gourie in 2018 is far different from what it was in 1817 when it first surfaced in historic accounts. Records indicate that it was then known as ‘Goory’ and owned by one George Young who had grown his slave holdings from 21 in 1817 to 48 by 1824; its nearby cave, once hid runaway slaves, the 2014 Forest Management Plan informs. Fast forward to the 21st century, Gourie is now legally protected, with 90% forest cover, and the descendants of slaves, servants, planters and visitors from afar stroll its peaceful, lush grounds and multiple trails.
It takes a four wheel drive to navigate the unpaved road leading to Gourie cave, the longest known underwater cave in Jamaica at 3505 metres (Jamaica Caving Notes, 2007). Half way there, we must trek by foot. On every side, several species of ferns grow, along with fruit trees growing in the shadow of towering forest trees, perhaps tossed by visiting and resident wildlife.
At the end of this trail is the cave, host to part of the Hector river– revealed only by our flashlights and the gushing sounds of flowing water. (View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjKzKMLIv1A) Bats sleep overhead near stalactite, signs of their nocturnal activity revealed by saplings of new trees growing in dirt niches on the cave floor and walls. The bats dropped the seeds, says Otway Elliot as he gently pulls the saplings from the roots. These, he said, will be placed in the nursery and replanted in forest estates.
Two centuries after its life as a slave holder’s homestead, Gourie is likely to live out its potential of offering sustainable recreation that honours the environment while earning its keep. The fervent wish of the Forestry Department is that two centuries later, Gourie will live on, secure, pristine and undisturbed – as a sign that the present generation did what was right for those to come.