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ENVIRONMENT-CHILE: A Mega-Trail for Ecotourism

Gustavo González* - Tierramérica

SANTIAGO, Apr 21 2005 (IPS) - Twelve environmental projects will promote ecotourism along the ”Sendero de Chile”, the Chilean Trail, which at 8,000 kilometres will be one of the longest pathways in the world for hiking or tours on bicycle or horseback.

The route is to run from Visviri, on the northern Chilean border with Peru and Bolivia, to Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America, and will cross 40 watershed systems.

Three thousand km of the trail will pass through areas of meadows and scrubland, another 1,400 km will be through forests, and 1,200 km through desolate regions of deserts, valleys of volcanic lava or Patagonian steppes. The route will even include the distant Easter Island, out in the Pacific, which will have an eight-km stretch of trail.

The route is to be completed in 2010, which is also the bicentennial of Chile’s independence. But already some parts of the trail are ready for use and the initial environmental projects along the route have been launched.

The first of 12 sustainable development initiatives was inaugurated Apr. 7 in the town of Requinoa, some 100 km south of Santiago. The efforts are being promoted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Chile’s National Environment Commission (CONAMA).

The project, known as ”On the path of ecotourism and sustainability”, is a major contribution, according to Irene Philippi, UNDP resident representative in Chile. ”It will finance activities that will give greater value to the Chilean Trail, bring revenues into its communities and protect the environment.”

CONAMA and UNDP signed an agreement in late 2004 to provide financial backing for the 12 projects, for a total investment of 310,000 dollars.

The two institutions bring together contributions of 190,000 dollars with resources coming from the Global Environment Facility and its Small Grants Programme. The remaining 120,000 dollars are contributions from the groups executing the projects and the entities associated with them, mostly community and civil society groups.

In the context of support for construction of the Chilean Trail there was also a competition for financing projects throughout the country of up to 15,500 dollars, with contributions from UNDP and CONAMA, regardless of resources already obtained by the local organisations themselves.

According to CONAMA director Paulina Saball, the UNDP competition is a space for cooperation on environmental issues relevant to Chile, as part of the government’s policy agenda in that area, which seeks to encourage ”the contribution of community organisations, public and private, in environmental education.”

The lead agency for the Requinoa project is the Guides and Scouts Association of Rancagua, capital of Chile’s central Sixth Region.

The initiative includes training for ecotourism guides (from both the scouting movement and from ten local secondary schools), five educational panels, construction of a shelter, two campsites, and two additional interpretive trails about local flora and fauna.

There are plans to publish a manual and to film an educational video in an effort to attract visitors, which will include cooperation with tourism agencies and local communities.

”Scouting, since its origins, has been inspired on knowledge about nature and protecting it. The initiative to create the Chilean Trail should be complemented with projects like that of Requinoa, with its focus on education and environmental sustainability,” Paola Campos, a guide for a Santiago scouting group, told Tierramérica.

One of the projects of the Chilean Trail to benefit from small grants is tourism development in Colchane, on the high plains border with Bolivia, around 2,000 km north of Santiago. That effort is entrusted to the Aymara Suni Marka Indigenous Association.

Also to receive financing is a project of the Atacama desert town of San Francisco de Chiu-Chiu, to promote rural tourism in Inca-Coya, in the Second Region, located 1,400 km north of the capital. Both this and the Colchane projects are slated for completion in 2006.

The resident council of the small rural town of San Félix, in Chile’s Third Region, 800 km north of Santiago, will also build trails branching off the Chilean Trail as part of a locally-based project known as Los Españoles Tour Route.

(* Originally published Apr. 16 by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme.)

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