The Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve (SGBR), in Queretaro State, Mexico, is home to 10 of Mexico’s 11 ecosystems, boasting six feline species, black bears, and more than 30 percent of the bird species in the country. The reserve, roughly the size of Rhode Island, holds some of Central Mexico’s most breathtaking scenery – vertical caves, lush valleys, and rugged mountains. But the SGBR is also home to people in extreme poverty; the topographic and economic conditions make for a harsh existence. Finding the balance between protecting the region’s natural resources and promoting economic well-being is a complex task.
Created in 1997, the Reserve was the result of nearly 250 regional development meetings with local residents. Community response overwhelmingly supported federal designation of the area as a biosphere reserve, the highest-conservation-priority category of the parks system in Mexico.
Protecting the environment continues to be a high priority for residents.
Sierra Gorda Ecotours wants to be part of the solution. The Sierra Gorda Ecotours company is the initiative of Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda, which is working with the Biosphere Reserve office to establish ecologically feasible means of generating employment for the local population and to diminish the outpouring of emigrants to the US. A total of 100,000 people live in 700 rural communities, in which the average annual income is approximately $2,500.
Steering the region towards sustainability requires the cooperation of Grupo Ecologico staff and the Biosphere Reserve officers, led by long-time grassroots activist and Biosphere Director Martha Ruiz Corzo, known to locals as “Maestra Pati.” Corzo and her staff review environmental impact reports, organize local committees, build infrastructure, and enforce management rules and regulations. The Grupo Ecologico and the Biosphere negotiate financial and promotional support from national agencies, such as the Development Council for Indigenous Peoples, the Tourism Ministry, and the Ministry of Social Development, to finance rural community projects.
Sierra Gorda Ecotours currently offers tours in seven areas, each providing a variety of camping and lodging facilities, outdoor activities including trekking and hiking, birding, ecosystem and geological observation, and mountain biking; educational field trips, and traditional tourist attractions, such as historic sites and crafts workshops.
Each itinerary involves meeting and working with residents. Traveling to each base camp may include visits to local workshops, such as the ceramics cooperative in Soledad de Guadalupe or the commercial forestry plantations of private ranchers. Ecotourists may also audit workshops by environmental education specialists in schools along the route, or cooking classes with the women who manage household organic gardens and fruit trees in the Community Development Program.
Sierra Gorda Ecotours is committed to developing an organization of project-based committees, building skills and administrative capacity, and promoting a more sustainable rural culture. Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda has a long-term commitment to the region, having been founded over 18 years ago in the main town.
Environmental education, household self-sufficiency, conservation, and sustainable economic development continue to form the basis for the avant-garde co-management of the second most-populated natural protected area in the country.
For $15 you can get four issues of the magazine, a 50 percent savings off the newsstand rate.