Eternity Trail built in memory of Nicaraguan conservationist

The legacy of an internationally recognised conservationist in Nicaragua was honoured on Friday, with the unveiling of a new nature interpretation trail on Maderas Volcano, Ometepe Island, Nicaragua.

The new trail, called Sendero la Eternidad (The Eternity Trail) is dedicated to Teresa Zúñiga, an inspirational and devoted Nicaraguan conservationist who ran Fauna & Flora International’s (FFI’s) country programme in Nicaragua from April 2006 until her untimely death in September 2008.

Teresa was an outstanding ambassador for environmental protection and was instrumental in initiating and driving forward the designation of Ometepe as an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Her loss came as a devastating shock to family, friends and colleagues, and to Nicaragua’s wider conservation community.

Teresa with her youngest son (Credit: Ramiro Pérez Altamirano)

Teresa with her youngest son (Credit: Ramiro Pérez Altamirano).

Prior to the start of this project, the Ometepe trail was extremely rough and severely eroded. In parts, the trail followed routes simply forged by streams running off the volcano. It was easy to stray from the paths, as they were unclear and there were very few route markers.

Concerns for the safety of those walking on the volcano increased as more incidents occurred involving tourists who were keen to hike to the top but unfamiliar with the routes and unwilling to take guides.

At the same time, the forest ecosystem and biodiversity were being damaged by visitors straying off the paths.

It was clear that action needed to be taken, so a plan was developed to improve the trail and protect both the forest and its visitors.

This project and activities have been coordinated by FFI in cooperation with a number of partners, including a local foundation (Fundación Entre Volcanes), MARENA (the Nicaraguan government ministry for the environment) and the local mayor’s office of Alta Gracia.

It is hoped that this trail will improve safety for park visitors and staff, while reducing erosion and habitat damage by keeping people on well-maintained and clearly marked paths. Interpretation signs placed around the trail will also help improve people’s understanding of the area’s biodiversity.

Working together

The design and construction of the trail has been a great demonstration of cooperation, with many different parties collaborating to make the idea a reality.

The design of the trail incorporated a number of ideas submitted by architectural students from the University of America (Universidad Americana) in Nicaragua, who had participated in a design competition.

With the design in place, the work could begin.

The manpower for the bulk of the construction work was taken on by a local cooperative (La Cooperativa Carlos Día Cajina). This cooperative owns the farm where the volcano trail begins (Finca Magdalena), dedicated to organic coffee, bananas, cacao (chocolate beans), and community tourism.

Around 20 members of the cooperative were involved in working on the trail, with technical support and training from Fundación Cocibolca, a Nicaraguan foundation which manages a similar protected area on the north-western shores of Lake Nicaragua.

Materials used in the construction, such as volcanic rock and sand, were locally sourced.

Currently, the route covers 3 km of trails, including bridges, rest areas, route markers and interpretation signs. At the entrance to the trail is a small garden and rock sculpture depicting a salamander endemic to Ometepe Island.

Remembering a great conservation leader

On Friday 20th April, a simple opening ceremony was held, attended by representatives from all the parties involved (from local cooperatives and community members to foundations and government officials). Staff from FFI also attended, along with Teresa Zúñiga’s relatives.

Teresa's mother opens the new trail (credit: Ariel  Parrales/FFI).

Teresa's mother opens the new trail. To the right of her is José Urteaga, FFI’s Nicaragua Programme Manager (credit: Ariel Parrales/FFI).

Words and thoughts were shared, both about the project itself and Teresa. Her efforts transcended FFI projects, and her tireless work helped to safeguard many of her country’s endangered species, such as the jaguars of Indio Maíz Biological Reserve and turtles nesting on Nicaragua’s shores.

A specialist in biodiversity and protected areas, she made a valuable contribution to the development of Nicaragua’s protected area system and the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.

“The dedication of The Eternity Trail to Teresa Zúñiga is a fitting tribute to a great conservation leader,” said José Urteaga, FFI’s Nicaragua Programme Manager.

“It will serve as a tangible reminder of her contribution to conservation in Nicaragua and her efforts in establishing Ometepe as a Biosphere Reserve.

“Her passion and spirit, which live on in the memories of all who knew her, will now continue to inspire those who visit Ometepe – an area she was so committed to protecting,” he added.