Ecotourism: From the Rolling Hills of Central Maryland to the Rainforests of Peru

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From Carroll County Dept. of Recreation & Parks

For two Environmental majors with an avid interest in nature and love for travel, a class preparing us for an adventure in Peru is the ideal academic setting. That trip, however, is not until January and we need to find our nature fix elsewhere to unwind from academic, extracurricular, and social stress during the semester.

Fortunately, we (Cris and Jase) have convenient access to a local park called Hashawha Environmental Center, which we use as a way to enjoy nature and de-stress.  Just a few weeks ago on a beautiful Maryland autumn afternoon, we found ourselves lost in nature at Hashawha, both figuratively and literally (We both love adventure but unfortunately neither of us have particularly strong navigational abilities)!  Not only does Hashawha provide a beautiful natural setting for the general public to enjoy, but it also serves as a unique way to preserve the native flora and fauna of the east coast of North America found specifically in Carroll County.

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Photo by Jason Swartz (Hashawha Environmental Center)

However, it is disturbing to note that “50 – 80 percent of the world’s protected areas (including marine protected areas) were underfunded or poorly managed” (Parkswatch.org). Hashawha is an important educational and recreational place of refuge for students, some faculty, and many who live around the area. Without this protected natural space, a vast amount of opportunities would be lost. After reflecting, Hashawha, like many popular ecotourism locations, is a protected environmental area that could just as easily be farmland or urban area instead of the beautiful natural safe-haven for wildlife that it is.

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Las Piedras river in Peru. Photo from Projectonepercent.com

Other protected areas around the world, however, are not as lucky. Popular international tourist locations, while beautiful and majestic, can suffer the strain of mass tourism. With the advent of the 21st century and easy travel, mass tourism has become commonplace – and in locations that perhaps were not as topical in the past (Urry).

Latin America has become a huge hub for tourism and international travel–for multiple reasons, notwithstanding the appeal of its natural beauty. Some, like us, make plans to travel to the rainforest to see parts of our world that we would normally never experience–parts that remind us of the beauty of our planet and the necessity of environmental stewardship. But how many leave a mark that is significantly positive? Tourists in Peru no doubt want to experience the best aspects of the country, have a wonderful time, and take back mementos with them to cherish the memory forever. But in doing so, are they contributing to the environmental destruction that plagues places like these?

There are a multitude of interesting locations for tourists to visit and have a fun, if tailored, travel experience. But one must remember that these beautiful parts and protected areas of the world are not just for photographing and moving on from–theyprovide much more than just tourism money. They also conserve the world’s embattled biodiversity, store tremendous amounts of carbon, safeguard freshwater sources, and,according to research, provide unquestionable psychiatric, spiritual, and cultural benefits.” 

Currently, Peru’s protected natural areas are protected by the General Department of Natural Protected Areas, but much of rainforest and landscape of the country are still facing multiple threats as a result of tourism and global consumption (clear-cutting for agricultural use, illegal logging, and gold mining, for example). Something that a traveler might want to think about before visiting Peru’s lush forests or breathtaking falls is whether or not they are making a positive change (or at the very least not contributing to the destruction of this place) with the money and time they spend in the country. 

Nature’s beautiful landscapes do not exist solely to bring us entertainment and solace – it is a welcome side-effect of the beauty of our planet. Nonetheless, we are stewards of this planet (even on our vacation days) and have the obligation to ensure that these beautiful places that we love to visit remain beautiful through responsible environmental practices.

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Gocta Falls in Peru. Photo taken from Perutravelsonline.com

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