One of the most recognizable photos of Masungi Georeserve Park is that of a giant white web perched in the middle of limestone formations. When one stands atop the web, one would see on the right, the country’s largest lake, Laguna de Bay and on the left, the majestic Sierra Madre Mountain Range.
Sapot, as aptly named, is the best viewing point in the park, according to Masungi’s Advocacy Officer Billie Dumaliang. Although it only made a buzz on social media in recent years, Masungi’s conservation efforts go back to 1996 when the area, which the limestone formation stands on, was devoid of life and aggravated by illegal logging, quarrying and rapid urbanization.
Speaking to class a, Masungi’s Project Manager Ann Dumaliang said, “We were on one of the hills and realized that the mountains at a distance that we used to see were no longer there and that urbanization was just creeping in so fast.”
It took twenty years to reforest the area. Although the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Blue Star Construction & Development Corporation had multiple proposals to utilize the park, nothing really sat well with the area.
“We were queued more heavily to preservation which is what the area deserves. The forest healed itself,” said Billy.
And so, in 2015, Masungi was opened to the public but unlike most tourist destinations, the park was not overwhelmed with people. This is because Masungi’s business model is anchored on sustainable tourism.
“It’s a privilege and not a right to be able to enjoy the view,” explained Billy. In fact, those who wish to experience Masungi must agree to the conservation practices in the area.
“And if you’re not willing to, we are not letting you in,” added Ann.
To be able to preserve the millions-year-old formations, none of the structures are permanent. The rock formations are linked by hanging bridges, structures are made out of bamboo and are tied with cables.
The bird’s eye view is also meant to set a vantage point without being disruptive to the home of some 400 species of wildlife.
However temporary the structure might be, the path to building it was a rigorous one–skimming case studies and models of UNESCO Geoparks and heavily immersing on the ground.
“We really looked at the local materials, the local
stories, the history, what are the local skills we can
apply to area and to make the landscape instead
of introducing something foreign or introducing something imposed by outsiders in place. So its creativity that fuels people’s interest in the natural area,” chimed Billy.
Another notable thing about Masungi is the scope of involvement of its local park rangers in designing the trail; a case in point is Sapot, which was thought of by a local park ranger.
Masungi took on its team people who are indigenous in the area, including those who previously quarried and logged. With the standpoint of locals, the management was able to bring out the most appropriate approach to mounting the trail: biomimicry.
Apart from Sapot, other structures that enhance the natural character of the area are the Duyan and the Sawa, a rope bridge taking after the monitor lizard python that serves as a rapid exit for visitors.
The dedication of the Masungi team to the reserve recently yielded a Path Finder Award from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) and WildArk. They particularly noted how Masungi was able to make the park attractive, without pressure on the environment.
However, the international acclaim is only one battle won for the team of Masungi. Every day, they have to confront legal cases, and stand up against local leadership when conflicts of interest arise.
“A lot of people did not realize that conservation is really more than just standing there and planting trees and controlling visitor management. [There] are battles you don’t win overnight or over the span of a year, these are things you commit to in a decades time because it takes a long time for them to get resolved. Those are things we grapple with and deal with everyday,” said Ann.
Conservation is really more than standing there and planting trees
This article first appeared in the 7th issue of class a magazine: the travel issue