The Isthmian: Raúl’s Canopy Tower Update
By Raul Arias de Para
Businessman and Conservationist
published in The Isthmian
As you may recall, in the last article I mentioned that because the tower was within Soberania National Park I had to submit an environmental impact assessment to the park authorities (INRENARE) and I was still waiting for its approval to start construction. To speed up this process I met on November 6th with INRENARE’s Deputy Administrator and explained to him that I needed to start construction right away in order to take advantage of the tourist season which begins in January. Fortunately, I was able to convince him and he gave me a “preliminary limited approval” and I started construction right away so that while the environmental impact assessment was going through all the nooks and crannies of the bureacracy I could start preparing the Canopy Tower for opening in January 1998 as scheduled.
The first thing I did was to start the construction of an adequate staircase to go up the first floor, which is located 8.5 meters (25ft) from ground level. The old stairs were built for GI’s, and are very steep and narrow.
The stairs I am building are wide and comfortable, appropriate for visitors of all ages.
I also started construction of the first rain forest observation vehicle, “Rainfomobile No. 1”. This is a completely open vehicle which will take visitors up the one mile road to the Canopy Tower.
It is amazing the things you can see while on the road. For example, the other day I saw a Crane Hawk (Geranospiza caerulescens niger), which is a rare species of raptor, usually seen in Darien. A friend of mine, Roberto Fabrega, a Canal Pilot who likes to go jogging up and down this road for aerobic exercise saw an Ocelot (Felis pardalis). All of this in an area that is no more than 30 minutes from downtown Panama City!
I have also been busy building a water system to provide this vital liquid to the Canopy Tower. The USAF had a rain water collection system which provided enough water for the small number of its employees who used the tower. However, that system was not enough for the needs of an ecotourist center. Fortunately, thanks to Dick Warren, a retired civilian employee of the DOD now living in Arraijan, I learned that many years ago the USAF had a well in the site. Dick is an expert on wells and had drilled that well 25 years ago, thank God he remembered the location; I drilled there and found water at 85 feet. The well provides 2 gallons per minute, which is little compared to most wells but enough for the needs of the Canopy Tower.
This solved one of the most difficult problems of converting the radar tower into an ecotourist center. Without a constant source of water, I would have had to offer visitors only brief stays and no overnight facilities. This would have limited immensely their opportunities for enjoyment of the forest. One of the ironies of life in the rain forest is that water is generally a scarce resource. Unless you are located next to a stream which doesn’t go dry in the dry season water is abundant in the rainy season only.
I have begun installing feeders around the Tower so that birds and mammals will come regularly to the site and thus will be easier to observe. Following a method used in the famous Asa Wright Nature Center of Trinidad, I have set up tables with bananas, papayas, and sliced oranges on the grounds hoping to attract fruit eating birds. So far not much luck, but this is a long-term process anyway. I also brought Danilo and Zoilo, two of my expert tree climbers from El Valle’s Canopy Adventure, to help put up monkey feeders in the trees around the tower.
Finally, on November 21 I received the visit of six INRENARE officials who came to inspect the site as part of their review of the Environmental Impact Assessment. I am happy to report that they concluded that the project seems to pose no threats to the environment. However, they still have to write a report and send it to the Board of Directors. I expect to receive the “final, definitive, conclusive” approval in about 30 days!
Fortunately, patience is one of the many gifts God has given me!