Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer
CHARLES TOWN, Portland:THE BLUE and John Crow Mountains National Park (BJCMNP), which covers an extensive area of eastern Jamaica, including parts of Portland, St Thomas, and St Andrew, is a protected area co-managed by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT).
It is world renowned for its rich biodiversity and is one of only two known habitats of the giant swallowtail butterfly, the largest butterfly in the Western Hemisphere. It is also the home of the endangered Jamaican Blackbird and a sanctuary for the Jamaican Boa and the Jamaican Hutia (coney).
The park is also steeped in Jamaican history and heritage, with vestiges and ruins scattered all over the mostly hilly terrains, which include lands belonging to the Windward Maroons. It has significant potential for the development of Jamaica's heritage and eco-tourism. In essence, there are economic benefits for the country to be gained from this protected area.
Under a project called 'Strengthening the Operational and Financial Sustainability of Jamaica's National Protected Areas', there are plans to raise funds for the management of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park.
The project, costing about US$7 million in cash and kind, is mainly funded by the Global Environment Facility, an international donor agency from which NEPA will get funds to manage the project through the United Nations Development Programme in Jamaica, which assists in the management of the funds. NEPA is directly responsible for the execution of the project, which is managed by Roxanne Valentine.
"For this project, they are trying, at the end of it, to ensure that our protected areas are financially sustainable as well as operationally sustainable," Valentine told a group of community activists from Charles Town, Moore Town, Mill Bank/Bowmen. They were meeting in Charles Town, Portland, recently to discuss the involvement of these communities in the project, which is slated to end in 2016.
involve the community
NEPA already has a management plan for the area and a draft business plan, which will be adjusted after the participating communities have made their presentations and have submitted their proposals. "The community is very important. You have to involve the community in getting this to be a success," Valentine said.
To this end, NEPA has contracted the services of Karl Rid, as local business and financial consultant, to develop the business plan. The communities are to identify income-earning projects in the BJCMNP, that would make money from the protected areas without destroying the biodiversity.
Implementation of the plan is key, according to Rid. "When we review and revise the business plan, from the day you get it, the next day implementation will start ... there will be follow-ups, assessments, appraisals of what you have done so far," he told the small gathering.
In their presentations, Colonel Frank Lumsden of Charles Town, Colonel Walleye Sterling of More Town, and Eric McCurbin, president of the Bowmen Pen Farmers' Association, spoke about the heritage and eco-tourism projects that were already in operation in their communities, and those that they intended to implement soon. They also described some of the unique features of their communities and expressed their concerns about certain aspects of the NEPA project.
In her closing remarks, Valentine said, "I hope at the end of it we will be successful and the communities will benefit years to come."