Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica’s smallest but most visited national park, celebrated its 29th Anniversary Nov. 15. Director of Manuel Antonio National Park Sergio León’s proposal of dedicating two trees to persons instrumental in the park’s conception marks an historic event. An honored guest was the endearing Margarita Black de Mora, whose leadership and endeavors inspired the local community to fight for creation of a national park.
"In 1968 a North American purchased the land and erected gates preventing beach access to the public," Black recalled. "This is against Costa Rican law, so we tore the gates down, and the road remained open. "However, our problems were not over. Three years later, a Frenchman tried to develop the beach property, but the locals rallied in support and the land was expropriated."
Black looked lovingly at the luxuriant rainforest that surrounds the idyllic white-sand beach of Playa Manuel Antonio, smiled and said proudly, "On Nov. 15, 1972 the government declared Manuel Antonio a national park. It was a gift of nature for the world to enjoy in perpetuity." A welcome speech by León was difficult to hear with the waves pounding on the shore in the background. Representatives of the Environment and Energy Ministry, which hosted the occasion, members of the local community, schoolchildren and watchdogs of environmental issues listened attentively.
It was a proud day for the organization Kids Saving the Rainforest, as two young members unveiled their plaque for "Peace and Conservation" to commemorate Sept. 11 and the destruction of the World Trade Center. An inscription reads: "Wildlife, Habitat, Humanity, Harmony and the World." A vigorous hike along a steep muddy trail leads to Cathedral Point and a giant majestic Guapinol tree.
Rafael Gutiérrez, director of Conservation Areas in the Central Pacific Region, unveiled a plaque there to honor Dr. Luis Jorge Poveda, curator of the Herbarium at the Universidad Nacional. "The dedication of this magnificent tree is a token in appreciation of Poveda’s devotion and commitment to the conservation of nature and investigation of the flora of Costa Rica," said Gutiérrez. Poveda laughed as he hugged the awesome girth of the Guapinol.
"It’s incredible, imagine dedicating a tree to a mad biologist," he said. "The most important thing for me is that it remains standing here as a national monument for future generations.” Few noticed a small troop of endangered squirrel monkeys watching the ceremony from the treetops, as if they had appeared to honor the devoted naturalist and conservationist. Back at the beach, students from Escuela Privada Quepos presented a delightful play depicting the concerns of endangered species, pollution and the lack of conservation awareness.
Dressed in representational masks of wildlife and marine life found in the park, their message reinforces current concerns in the community. Finally, a giant Ceiba tree towering over 70 meters was dedicated to Black. Representing the Municipality of Aguirre, and the Quepos Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, longtime resident of the area Anita Myketuk introduced Black.
"Apart from being fundamental in the creation of Manuel Antonio National Park, her humanitarian commitment to the people of Quepos made her a central pillar of life in the region," Myketuk said. "The Ceiba tree, considered sacred by pre-Columbian Indians, is known for its stability like Margarita."