Monteverde, the “green mountain”

Monday, June 15, 2015
Caroline Chaboo

I visited Monteverde in June 1994, as a student in a field course led by former KU professor, Dr. Michael Greenfield. This was before my own current students here were born! Back then I was enchanted by the forest, its birds awaking me as they began singing from about 4 am, by the clouds drifting in with their misty moisture, and the overwhelming diversity of plants. The old field station inside the reserve was a wooden 2-story construction, with poorly lit rooms and scary showers. My student companions and I then complained of the wet and cold, while enjoying being far from home in this extraordinary forest. 

In 1951, 11 American Quaker families migrated to this area in protest of the Korean War.  Costa Rica had abolished its army and was an attractive destination. As the community established and grew, developing a low-key farming model, biologists began arriving for research. The reserve was established in 1972 to protect one of the world’s most diverse and virgin forests, with 6 ecological life zones and more than 2500 species of plants.

Today, Monteverde has grown, like Costa Rica, into a super-successful model of nature tourism and conservation.  The road, now paved, passes through the towns of Santa Elena and Monteverde.  My jaw dropped with the number of shops and hotels.  The new field station offers fine dining, its own gift shop, and a small army of workers and guides.  The forest is still a wet and cold place and the station still has heart-stopping frigid showers. 

It is a remarkable site to view the busloads of school groups and families and their uniformed guides arriving early, even before 7am, paying the entrance fees and heading off on the trails. More wondrous is that over 70,000 visitors come here annually to learn about biology and ecology!