Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘National Park’

Expand Yosemite

Dear Gabriel,

CAE_EY_Birthday_Action-Button_v1It’s almost Yosemite’s 150th birthday.

And we have a chance to give the park something great.

What do you get Yosemite, the park that has everything — from stunning Yosemite Falls and Half Dome, to black bears and Giant Sequoias?

Help us expand Yosemite National Park by hundreds of acres.

By taking action now, you can help pass a bill through Congress that would expand Yosemite by 1,600 acres. That’s 1,600 more acres of Giant Sequoias, meadows with snowmelt creeks, black bears, and memories of camping under the stars for our kids and their kids. It’s also the 1,600 acres that John Muir, the man who championed the idea of Yosemite National Park, intended to be part of the park in the first place.

But long ago this land was stripped from the park and given to loggers, miners and the railroad industry.

That’s why I need you to email Senator Feinstein right now.

Tell Sen. Feinstein it’s time to expand Yosemite National Park to its original vision.

The boundaries of Yosemite National Park haven’t been adjusted for the last 70 years. This is our shot.

Your action right now can help better protect Sierra red fox, Goshawks and wolverines from the threat of future development. Yosemite’s 150th birthday is around the corner. If enough Californians contact Congress, we can see to it that we give the park that has everything 1,600 more acres of beauty.

Thank you for being with me. Let’s leave Yosemite better — and bigger — than we found it.

Sincerely,

Dan Jacobson
Environment California Legislative Director

Eco Tourism In Rwanda

When most people think of Rwanda, the first two images that come to mind are usually Hotel Rwanda and the gorillas. If you asked them where in the country the gorillas reside (on the northern border of The Congo and Uganda) or when the genocide occurred, the majority of respondents must admit ignorance. If you told them the gorillas have been flourishing, as well as the country, they may think you are pulling their leg. Sixteen years since the 1994 genocide and several decades after the murder of Dian Fossey is a tiny blip in historical time, but centuries in the changes that have occurred in Rwanda.

In a country known as the land of a thousand hills, Rwanda is becoming increasingly known for its environmental policies, gender equality, stable government and breathtaking beauty. Positive internal and international support for protecting and expanding the parks and educating the people living in the surrounding towns and villages, has been nurtured, supported and expanded. There are now over 700 mountain gorillas (minus the recent killings of several gorilla families in the Democratic Republic of Congo) living in an area that once saw them close to extinction. But how has this rapid change and growth been impacting those directly involved, both those in the tourist industry and those living in communities that surround the Volcanoes National Park, where the gorillas reside?

As we descended from the world-renown sanctuary (which includes the Dian Fossey Research Foundation) through the village of Sacola, a local farmer named Dagazay Ma replied to such questions by adamantly stating, “The tourists and park don’t help our family, but I think it is important to protect the gorillas and it gives hope for Rwanda.” Another man named Jimmy Ma leaned on his hoe at the corner of his field of vegetables and said, “The gorillas are very very important for our country because they help the country and local people. If you get the tourists, they buy from shops. Life has gotten better since more tourists arrived.” Jimmy has two sisters and one brother he helps support, as both his parents are no longer living. He is in his early twenties and says he goes to school during the week and works on the farm on weekends and evenings.

Our park guide Fidel, who has worked as a ranger at the park for 13 years, added, “A portion of your fee (500 U.S. per person) goes to fund community projects, schools and local arts and crafts. The stone wall around the park was made by local villagers who were paid for its construction.” The wall keeps buffalo from leaving the park and trampling the farmer’s fields, as well as providing a delineation point for the park boundaries. A portion of the fee also pays for the rangers, who are on 24 hour patrol throughout the park, as well as continuing research by the Dian Fossey Foundation and other conservation organizations (both national and international).

The majority of tourists arrive from America, England, France and neighboring African countries of Uganda, Congo, Burundi and Kenya. Kamanzi Alloys, who drove us from the Rwandan capital of Kigali to Ruhengari (the largest city in the north) said, “People in town like the money tourists bring into their shops. More and more people are learning English as a result. I learned English in school. Our country is safe and people are happier. Tourists go to the national park and Lake Kivu (on the western border of Rwanda) for all their natural beauty.”

Because of the current level of safety, government stability and support for the environment, numerous international businesses and non-governmental organizations are finding their way to Rwanda. It is centrally located, has one of the best communications systems in Africa, especially for wireless phone connections and has a political climate that has opened the door for investment and entrepreneurs. Some of the companies investing in Rwanda include Starbucks, Costco, Bechtel, Columbia Sportswear and Google. Rwanda is also one of the first countries to participate in the One Laptop Per Child Program that intends to provide a revolutionary new computer with internet access to every child in the country. Other nations and organizations have also committed funding for Rwanda’s energy needs, education and health care. All of the people involved with these agencies, companies and organizations bring goods, services and capital into the country. Combine that influx of capital with the money tourists spend on food, lodging, transportation, entertainment and merchandise and you can see why it would be difficult for most Rwandans to turn off the cash faucet and say “No”.

Even with this influx, not everyone is partaking of the bounty; not everything is “trickling down” or even started to flow. Less than five percent of the population has computers or internet access and the majority of this agriculturally driven economy are still poor farmers tilling every inch of land available. Rwanda is the most densely populated country per square mile in all of Africa. Thousands of orphans continue to live on the streets and the middle class are just beginning to see the benefits and climb out of poverty themselves.

Rwanda is not picture perfect, but for those directly and indirectly impacted by tourists visiting the Volcanoes National Park and the rare mountain gorillas within their midst, life is looking pretty good. Compared to the recent past, Rwanda is becoming a Shangri-la in the middle of Africa and all of those involved in the tourist industry are climbing aboard, holding on to and leading the tourist’s coattails, with hope for continued prosperity and a better tomorrow.

Murakaza Neza (Welcome)

The two lane paved road kept climbing higher, past waterfalls, lush cultivated valleys and terraced hillsides. Kermit the Frog, from Sesame Street, would feel right at home with the abundance of green foliage that simmered before our eyes. The river that followed the road to Ruhengeri in the north of Rwanda provided a beautiful contrast with its brownish-red colored waters. Our family was traveling with a group we worked with at an orphanage in the capital Kigali. We were taking a break to visit the rare mountain gorillas that live in the Virunga National Park, which borders The Congo and Uganda in Eastern Africa. The scenery during our two hour ride along the Ruhengari Road (built by the Chinese) was spectacular, but even that lovely assault on the senses didn’t prepare us for what was to come.

When we arrived at The Gorilla Nest Lodge in Ruhengeri, just outside the Volcanoes National Park, we were stunned. Imagine a luxury hotel, superbly crafted from local stone, wood and bamboo, tucked into the jungle at the bottom of a blue-green volcanic range. Top that off with spacious rooms, fine dining and friendly service from people that speak English, French and Kinyarwanda (the national language) and you have a virtual Shangri-la in the middle of Africa.

After a peaceful night we were driven to the Virunga Park entrance and met our guide, Fidel, who has worked as a park ranger for thirteen years. He informed us that we would be walking for about three hours to find the family we would be observing. We set out, nine in all and made our way up the hillside past planted fields and traditional mud huts; over the stone wall, which was built by villagers (who were paid by the government) to keep out elephants and buffalo and to delineate the park boundary. We were well prepared for what is usually a wet misty experience (with our boots and raincoats), but were in luck with sunny weather and a clear trail.

As we walked Fidel told us that the dominant male in a family (the Silverback) is called “The President”. He said if there is no dominant male in the group than a female is the leader. “Blackbacks are males before they become adults,” Fidel said quietly. “From eight years on females are called adults because they can have babies. Gorillas can live up to forty years old. Gestation for pregnancy is about eight to nine months. Females usually live longer than males. Sound familiar? They are vegetarians. They sleep, play, socialize and eat just like us. Their DNA is ninety-seven percent the same as humans.” Fidel suddenly held up his hand and whispered, “straight ahead.” We heard the sound of twigs breaking and grunting noises before we could see anything. Fidel gently pushed aside some bamboo and my wife was staring face to face with a 500 pound silverback ten feet in front of her who was contently sitting down to lunch on some freshly stripped morsels of bamboo leaves. She froze, as we lined up alongside her; our mouths agape at the spectacle.

It wasn’t long until a number of females with toddlers and a newborn joined the silverback. We watched the children play, nurse and be pulled back to their moms when they got to far away or too close to the spectators. We were entranced. We were the ones with the camera equipment, but if the gorillas could take our picture, they would probably be laughing hysterically at images of our grinning stupefied faces.

As required, we left the gorilla family after an hour’s viewing and made our way back down the mountain. We were in such awe that there was little conversation. Everyone knew the $500.00 per person we had paid for permits to see the gorillas was the best money we had ever spent. The funds from the permits help the rangers protect the gorillas, continue research and provide funds for the surrounding communities to build schools, health clinics and crafts centers.

Rwanda is becoming increasingly noticed for its environmental policies, gender equality, stable government, family life and breathtaking beauty. Positive internal and international support for infrastructure, education, investment, security and eco-tourism have made it assessable, affordable and one of the safest destinations for adults and children in Africa.

When we returned to Kigali the next day and continued our work at the ROP Center for Street Children, my wife said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if these kids could some day afford to see the gorillas?”

“It would be fantastic,” I thought. Perhaps some day soon these children will be able to finish their education, make a living and visit the rare mountain gorillas themselves. Perhaps some of them will, like Fidel, grow up and work in one of Rwanda’s beautiful national parks and lead tourists like you and me to see their beloved and amazing national treasure, our cousins, the magnificent mountain gorillas of Virunga National Park.

Our Kin In Rwanda

The two-lane paved road kept climbing higher, past waterfalls, lush cultivated valleys and terraced hillsides. Kermit the Frog, from Sesame Street, would feel right at home with the abundance of green foliage that simmered before our eyes.

The river that followed the road to Ruhengeri in the north of Rwanda provided a beautiful contrast with its brownish-red colored waters.

Our family was traveling with a group we worked with at an orphanage in the capital Kigali. We were taking a break to visit the rare mountain gorillas that live in the Virunga National Park, which borders The Congo and Uganda in Eastern Africa.

The scenery during our two-hour ride along the Ruhengari Road (built by the Chinese) was spectacular, but even that lovely assault on the senses didn’t prepare us for what was to come.

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