Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge plays an important part in communal development in the zone where it is located, especially in Dominical, Playa Guapil and Hatillo. It is an internationally known tourist destination. It appears in over 30 travel guides in Costa Rica, North America and Europe. There is no other tourist attraction within 25 kilometers with so much potential to attract visitors to the area. The beaches, by themselves, aren’t special enough to compete with those of other places, but according to polls taken by the Tourist Bureau more tourists visit ecological sites than beaches. The most attractive destinations are those that combine the two. This indicates that the annual number of clients to visit Hacienda Barú will continue on its upward growth curve. Many of these people will visit the local communities as well, thus promoting a development parallel to the growth of the wildlife refuge.
To understand this better try to imagine what the growth of Quepos and Manuel Antonio would have been like without the presence of the National Park. Think about how important the park has been for the development of these places. What would happen to these communities where there are over two hundred business that offer hospitality if Manuel Antonio National Park were to disappear?
In 1987 Hacienda Barú received a grand total of 27 ecological tourists. Ten years later in 1997 it received over 3000 and we expect 16,000 for the year 2006. If the curve continues in this manner within a few years many thousands of tourists will arrive in this area yearly specifically to visit the National Wildlife Refuge, but will also spend money in the neighboring communities.
This will create a great demand for many services such as taxis, guides, transport of materials and merchandise, restaurants, and lodging. There will be a tremendous potential for the development of small business in the neighboring communities. The production and sale of arts and crafts, small furniture factories that utilize locally grown hard woods such as teak, spiny cedar, laurel and melina, horse rental, the production and sale of fruits and vegetables and the production and sale of herbal medicines to mention a few.
There will be more employment directly with Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge as well as in the small business mentioned above. As a cattle ranch and rice and cacao farm the hacienda never employed over 14 people. As an ecological tourist destination it employees between 25 and 35, depending on the season. The existence of employment within the local community will stop or reverse the migration of the youth of the zone to the population centers. It will raise the standard of living in the community.
Jack Ewing, director of the Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge has been involved with communal groups for many years. Over the last 34 years he has served on the School Board in Barú, the Health Committee in Hatillo, the Health Committee for the Cantón of Aguirre, the Dominical Development Association, the Association of Friends of Nature of the Central and South Pacific (ASANA,) the Local Environmental Council for the Aguirre-Parrita Sub Region, the Neighborhood Security Committees for both Dominical and Hatillo and the Communal Development Committee de Hatillo. The hacienda has helped many of these groups in other ways such as transportation of materials, merchandise and people, donations of materials and money, use of the infrastructure for meetings, office services such as computers, telephone and fax.
Hacienda Barú has collaborated with the Environmental Ministry (MINAE) and ASANA in programs of environmental education. Students from 11 local elementary schools, technical schools and high schools have visited the refuge where they have received environmentally oriented lectures and hikes at no cost to the schools. Many other student groups from Universities and technical schools throughout the country have visited the hacienda at specially reduced rates.