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Tony Rath's

 
THINGS TO DO > FIELD SCHOOLS

With 40% of its lands and waters protected and a growing tourism industry, Belize has adopted an interactive approach to reserve management. Several field schools and research stations in northern Belize cater to an ongoing quest to promote sustainable resource use, controlled eco-tourism, continuous education, and both ecological and anthropological investigations. As resident authorities on regulated land use and eco-tourism, these stations are open to the public and often provide accommodations for inquisitive guests. They provide a unique alternative to the traditional “look but don’t touch” vacation.

Lamanai Field Research Center
Lamanai Outpost Lodge has established itself as the foremost authority of the Lamanai Archaeological Reserve. The Maya center of Lamanai (“submerged crocodile”) thrived for almost three millennia, extending from the formative years of the Mayan world to the preaching friars of Spanish colonists. Today, Lamanai Outpost Lodge overlooks the clear waters of the New River Lagoon just like the principle structure of the Lamanai ruins nearby.

The Outpost blends adventure, education, and leisure in a habitat rich in history and ecological diversity. With over 700 Maya structures, 377 documented species of birds, the largest inland body of freshwater in Belize, and several species of endangered, endemic wildlife at its doorstep, Lamanai Outpost Lodge and its Lamanai Field Research Center (LFRC) provides a perfect backdrop for research and education in a variety of scientific disciplines. The Lamanai Field Research Center, a Belize non-profit organization, has been active in conservation and archaeology programs since 1992.

Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area
The Rio Bravo Conservation and Management area, organized and supervised by the Programme for Belize, has become a national example of sustained forestry development and conservation. The Programme for Belize is a private, non-profit, Belize-based organization dedicated to the preservation and management of Belize’s natural resources, namely the Rio Bravo area.

The 250,000 acres of pristine forest has supported the logging business for decades. However, due to intensive logging, precious hardwoods such as mahogany and cedar have dwindled to alarming levels over the past century. Much of Programme for Belize’s impetus for acquiring the land has been to determine the most productive uses for the forest. Since 1992, the Programme has promoted low-impact tourism, regulated timber harvesting, and funded on-going research dissecting the region’s ecology. Agroforestry experiments, forestry management education, and preservation-motivated eco-tourism contribute to the Programme for Belize’s overall management scheme. In addition to tremendous wildlife diversity, the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area includes over sixty Mayan Archaeological sites, many of which are unexcavated.

The Mayan site of La Milpa is the largest and principle ecotourism site in the area. The site offers accommodations, an educational center, and an intricate system of guided trails within the park. The fusion of resort and research creates a unique opportunity for students and tourists alike to interact with researchers actively investigating the cultural roots of the region and/or forestry management initiatives.

Hill Bank Field Station
In addition to the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area, the Programme for Belize also manages the Hill Bank Field Research Station. The Programme established the station in 1996 on the New River with the same initiative of sustainable forestry management, controlled eco-tourism, and interactive research as the Rio Bravo region and the La Milpa site. Hill Bank originally served as a Mahogany logging camp for British buccaneers and African slaves in the 18th century. After the trees were extracted from the forest, they hit the water, were chained together, and floated downstream to Belize City for processing. During the 1950’s, Hill Bank catered to approximately 400 men, women, and children—all active in the logging business. By the 1970’s, over 7,000 trees were extracted annually. The village was slowly abandoned thereafter due to a dwindling Mahogany population.

View from Tower at Hillbank Station
View from Tower at Hillbank Station

Today, the logging industry has crashed, but the forest lives on under the protection of conservation initiatives and the funding from controlled eco-tourism. The field station at Hill Bank currently investigates management plans for the forest’s resources and invites guests to partake in the field station’s daily routine in a variety of forest exploration activities.

Blue Creek Project
Since 1992, the Maya Research Program (MRP) has sponsored annual excavations at the ancient Maya site of Blue Creek in northwestern Belize. MRP is a not-for-profit research organization affiliated with Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth, Texas that studies the ancient Maya civilization in hopes of better understanding the civilization’s rise and ultimate demise. MRP strives to inform the public about the Maya culture while concomitantly preserving and protecting Maya ruins and artifacts in Belize and the surrounding countries.

MRP promotes the incorporation of cost-sharing volunteers and field-school students who often have no prior archaeology experience into their projects. Beginning in 2002, MRP began investigating other Mayan sties within northern Belize. MRP provides visitors with the unique opportunity to work with and observe professionals in the field.

WildTracks
Wildtracks is a private organization run by the British couple Paul and Zoe Walker. From their base in the Shipstern Reserve near the border with Mexico, they have run workshops for Belizean and British children for over five years. Paul Walker with kids at WildTracksThey were recently successful in enlarging the reserve to encompass 1,700 acres and have initiated various community programs, including the breeding of deer and the development of small-scale mahogany and medicinal plantations.

Over the past two years, Wildtracks has also worked towards the conservation of the area that falls within the Meso-American Biological Corridors Program. This program links reserves throughout Belize (and, in fact, throughout Central America) in an international effort to ensure the preservation of the area's rich biological diversity. A continuous string of reserves without the obstruction of international borders provide corridors allowing wildlife to move freely from one area to another.

For more information, contact Paul or Zoe Walker at Wildtracks in nearby Sarteneja. They can make arrangements for the lagoon crossing and overnight stay at Fireburn Village.

Paul & Zoe Walker
Wildtracks
P.O. Box 700
Belize City, BELIZE

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