It was a ten-day whirlwind tour of our three pilot sites in southwest and central Dominican Republic from June 27 to July 7. Though we moved swiftly between sites, our pace on the trail was a mere crawl. It had to be in order to absorb the immense amount of biodiversity we encountered around every bend. Ted Eubanks, our interpretation specialist for the Caribbean Birding Trail, has busily been photo-documenting this biodiversity via his Pinterest board and utilizing the Caribbean Birding Trail blog (see posts below) to discuss our interpretive themes and the evolutionary radiation we saw in the orchids, anoles, butterflies and of course, the birds of the Dominican Republic.
One of our primary goals for this first trip to the Dominican Republic was to collect information to complete a Resource Assessment of our three sites, Sierra de Bahoruco Bahoruco Oriental (Cachote) and Valle Nuevo. The assessment includes not just an inventory of the biodiversity and physical infrastructure, but also the cultural resources. To help assess the latter, we engaged in conversations with the landowners and community members we met along the way. We also held two participatory workshops, one on June 28 in the province of Barahona in southwest DR, and a second on July 3 in the province of Constanza in central DR.
The purpose of our workshops was twofold. One, to introduce the idea of the Caribbean Birding Trail and explain that the interpretive aspects of the trail are what will ultimately connect people to the resource. Two, to learn from the participants about their community. One of the questions we posed to them was: “If an international traveler comes to your town…what will you show them?” And, “what will you sell them?”
Constanza, for example, is a major agricultural zone in the DR, and holds great potential for agro-tourism as well as the sale of products made from the fruits, vegetables and flowers grown in the region. These harvests are almost all exported…but with tourism, the benefit is that the market is coming to you – so what will they buy?
From the workshops, we also learned that the communities lack promotion and capacity. The current flow of tourism to these parts of the country is sporadic; the primary source is from Dominicans vacationing on the weekend. The task for the Caribbean Birding Trail, therefore, is not to promote the sites beyond their carrying capacity. Rather, the challenge is to work on these two areas simultaneously: increase promotion while also increasing the capacity to provide lodging, guides, and other products.
In the coming months we will be using the information from the Resource Assessments to create interpretive plans for the sites that will include a number of recommendations for promotion and capacity building.
The Caribbean Birding Trail project team of Ted Eubanks, Holly Robertson and Lisa Sorenson next travel to Jamaica, so stay tuned!