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New trails bring welcome tourism to the Republic of the Philippines

arrow From the Fall 2009 issue of American Trails Magazine

 

Sharing our love of dirt: trail building in the Philippines


I feel fairly safe in saying that those of us involved in the trail industry are happier with our lives than many Americans. Whether we are professional trail builders, trail advocates, volunteers, trail users, or a combination of all of these, our quality of life is more frequently enlivened by the presence of great outdoor recreation than our pursuit of the all mighty dollar.

photo of kids on water buffalo

Low carbon footprint: young Trail riders in the Philippines

Ponder this: trails are most often a free activity with few or no places to spend money. The act of using a trail has a minimal carbon footprint, especially if it is out your backyard and you are self-propelled. Of course, the materials for your mountain bike, running shoes, or rain jacket use natural resources and require fuel. Only hiking or running naked out your backyard trail has no carbon footprint, but it’s frowned upon in most areas.

So, if one of your passions is using trails, you are in essence helping pause the ticking clock of climate change, minimizing your economic consumption, and replenishing your entire body and soul. No pill from the doctor can accomplish this!

As a “professional dirt bag” I feel the desire to assist other countries less fortunate than ours to develop sustainable trail projects for low-impact economic development. My peers in the Professional Trailbuilders Association (PTBA) have built projects in all 50 states and more than 20 countries on five continents. Most of these projects had limited funds, but high importance to the local communities.

As winter descends on my beautiful state of Colorado and the white snow blankets the frozen earth, my battered but happy body is ready to rest. This usually lasts about a month and then I start dreaming about the smell of freshly turned earth and becoming grounded again in it.

photo of grassy hillside

checking a potential trail route

This annual transformation, and our common feelings of being blessed by our universe has led many PTBA members to volunteer for an increasing number of projects in third-world countries. These countries are considered poor by our standards.

In the Philippines, my favorite winter trail work location, half the population lives on less than a dollar a day. Ironically, the Filipino children, who own very few clothes and toys, much less electronic devices, seem happier and less bored than our children with their iPods, cell phones, and laptops.

When Richard Louv wrote Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, I began to understand why my life was radically different than many of my friends and family... and I’m really not crazy! I realized how fortunate I have been to grow up “connected to the woods” since I was an infant. Louv states, “Unlike television, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it.” As D.H. Lawrence put it, “Nature is about smelling, hearing, tasting... seeing below the transparent mucous-paper in which the world is like a bon-bon wrapped so carefully that we can never get at it.”

In the fall of 2006, I began volunteering for the innovative, smart, and driven Governor Lray Villafuerte in the Province of Camarines Sur in the Republic of the Philippines. His vision of providing high quality, adventure recreation has taken his province from the 39th place to the ninth richest province in the country in less than five years.

His largest success so far has been the Cam Sur Watersports Complex (CWC) in the Capitol of Pili. His state-of-the-art wakeboarding facility recently hosted the 2009 Wake Park World Championships, bringing in thousands of spectators and competitors from around the globe. The Park provides jobs and income for hundreds of employees and indirectly fuels the entire economy in the region. In the first six months of this year almost a million visitors flew into this lush and beautiful region, surpassing the most popular beach locations like Boracay and Palawan.

photo of hut and biker

IMBA representative getting acquainted with residents

These visitors not only came to the wake park and its companion Bike Park, but also to visit the remote coastline of the Caramoan Peninsula, which has hosted Survivor television programs from France, Bulgaria, Israel, and
Turkey in the past two years. Visitors are also coming for the mountain biking and trekking opportunities provided by Mt. Isarog, a 6,000-foot high dormant volcano. Mt. Isarog is part of the oldest national park in the country, established in 1935.

Mt. Isarog National Park is also a prime location for mountaineering, X-C mountain biking, and downhill mountain biking (with a goal of Asia’s first lift-accessed downhill trails). This vast park will be marketed as a recreation destination when the project reaches critical mass. Planning continues on the bike park this winter with several other trail-building companies cooperating to build additional mileage, a jump park, and four cross tracks.

Its diverse rain forest and cloud forest is listed by the Haribon Foundation as “a key area of global importance.” Even in the dry season it rains almost daily on the higher reaches on the volcano, where trees are covered with intricate mosses and ferns and seemingly innocuous, pretty flowers eat insects and even small rodents.

photo of biker on dirt trail

Trying out a new Mountain bicycling trail at Mt. Isarog

The work is often plagued with “tropical inertia” in the oppressive heat and humidity, not to mention limited funding. Don Hays, one of the partners in this effort, and I agree: we have never designed trails in such a challenging and spectacular environment.

Our daily reconnaissance treks often included 3,000+ feet of elevation gain on slopes in excess of 125%, in jungle so thick you can’t see more than ten feet. These long arduous days often required life-threatening situations where a slight misstep could end up in your own fatality.

There’s something more special about life and living after a few weeks on Isarog. As the sun sets and you perform the daily ritual of picking off the leeches you have fed so well, one can only feel invigorated and thankful to be alive.

On the other side of the coin, but no less amazing, is the overall cultural experience of implementing trail projects in other countries. Immersing yourself in other cultures is an addicting and intoxicating experience.

people in my hometown, Salida, Colorado— a county with 83% public lands. It almost feels like a different planet. The total landmass of Colorado equals that of the 7,107 islands that combined, make up the Republic of the Philippines. However, there are 98 million people in the Philippines and only five million in Colorado.

photo of may in dense shrubs

Tony Boone trying to check the trail grade through the bamboo

The simple act of drinking clean water out of the tap or flushing a toilet that goes to a sewage treatment plant and not into an open canal in your neighborhood is not something we should take for granted. Our towns and cities are so clean, we can wear our outdoor shoes in the house without risking deadly disease to our crawling toddlers. We even keep dogs as pets, not just security guards.

We are truly blessed to have all the things we do in the United States. Surely we would be more content if we could better reconnect with our founding fathers and mothers in our country and more fully appreciate the saying, “the best things in life are free.”

Trails are as old as the humans on our planet. They are part of our life’s fabric, whether it is for recreation, transportation, access to daily food, or protection of natural resources. I love that trails welcome all people and are non-discriminatory in nature. Trails don’t care what your religion, beliefs, race, income, sexual orientation, or recreational passions are.

photo of kids on beach

 

 

So here’s my advice: give back to your community, meet your neighbors, spend quality time with your family and friends, develop a philosophy to live, learn, love, and laugh. Don’t forget that the ultimate key to improving your health, saving our planet, and possibly rekindling your spirit, is out your back door: go play in the dirt!

See more of Tony Boone ‘s photos of the Philippines in the Fall 2009 issue of the American Trails Magazine. As president of Arrowhead Trails, Inc. and Anasazi Trails, Inc. for the past 16 years, Tony has had the opportunity to design and build more than 500 miles of sustainable, natural surface, shared-use trails in nine states and five countries.

 

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