By Jean Raven Aurelio

There is a careful balance of environmental conservation and economic development required to make an eco-tourism model viable for San Jose City’s Mt. Williams.

With the proposal to make it as the “mountain-biking capital” of the Philippines, it is important to ensure that efforts by its government and partners to make it so will give people a better understanding of what it means to truly be in harmony with nature.

Last October, hundreds of personalities, led by San Jose City mayor Mario “Kokoy” Salvador, visited the “wonder nature-trail site.”

The purpose of the visit was to make a joint inspection to make the “giant step” towards the development of the area into the Mountain-biking Capital of the country or to promote it as a “Hidden Nature’s Paradise”, as described by city tourism officer Darmo A. Escuadro..

The inspection included a route mapping activity in preparation for a bigger tourism campaign called Ready, 3-2-One Go.

And Mt. Williams in Barangay Villa Floresta, is fitting to be one of the highlights of this campaign. The mountain features a 14-kilometer-long-trail with challenging routes accessible by hiking, mountain-biking and motorcycle riding. The trail includes side trips to three mini waterfalls namely Banabac, Santol and Banbanaba.

To make this successful, the local government, its stakeholders and its target tourists have to work hand in hand to conserve the environment and make these experiences meaningful and sustainable for all.

Eco-tourism solution

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, defines eco-tourism as “environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature that promotes conservation, has low visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations.”

Eco Go, an online eco-tourism platform said that this can be “a springboard for economic development in developing countries and should be viewed as a stimulus to alleviate poverty in these areas.”

In the case of Mt. Williams, this means not leaving anyone behind when it comes to development.

Eco-tourism has presented a potential for growth in developing areas, but irresponsible tourism can damage the natural resources that make destinations attractive to visit in the first place.

This means that before the city takes a big step to promote tourism in Mt. Williams, there has to be a solid foundation of environmental education for its people and target market.

This is because “poorly planned and managed tourism attractions become unsustainable, harm the local community and destroy irreplaceable natural environments,” said Eco Go.

A perfect execution of eco-tourism effectively balances the preservation of natural resources and the economic impacts to the community.

Opportunities for all

Hiking and biking enthusiasts (and teachers) of Caanawan National High School said there are many ways that Mt. Williams can be developed to make a good experience for visitors. During their visit, they found that there were still no trail signs and tour guides and this makes it difficult to navigate the trail.

Laws and regulations also need to be implemented strictly to ensure everyone’s safety, said biker and teacher Ms. De la Cruz.

Mt. Williams is set to play a huge role in supporting the economy not only for the city, but also for Barangay Villa Floresta, said barangay chairman Bartolome.

“It will put our barangay on the map and create jobs for the locals,” said Bartolome who also expressed commitment to be the keeper of the mountain.

For Bartolome, the upkeep of the mountain should go smoothly especially with everyone’s compliance to protocols. Apart from the standard pandemic measures, he said tourists need to keep environmental conservation in mind.

Mindful traveling in an eco-tourism site gives tourists a deeper understanding of the environment and its benefits to the local community.

This article was written and prepared by Jean Raven Aurelio (Student-Journalist) and Janina Lara Cabrera (School Paper Adviser) from Caanawan National High School, Division of San Jose City as a final output of DepEd-DRRMS and AYEJ.org’s Green Beat Initiative: An Online Environmental Journalism Training.