A small but spectacular piece of rain forest in the heart of Costa Rica will remain standing, thanks to the intervention of three Salt Lake men.
Four years ago, Randall Tolpinrud, William Connelly and Jerry Robinson bought the jeopardized 460 acres for $178,000 after touring it on a business trip. They named it Bosque Lluvioso Rio Costa Rica, meaning rain forest on the Costa Rica River, and have since established a nonprofit foundation for the forest's preservation.Using "green technology" that employs environmentally sensitive materials and building techniques, they are developing an "Exploratorium" at the Bosque intended to be a haven for eco-tourists, students and Costa Rican-based National Biodiversity Institute researchers.
The institute, which is in partnership with the Costa Rican Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mines, attempts to determine and locate the country's 500,000 species of plants, animals and micro-organisms, then make that information available to the public.
Already in place on the Bosque are a restaurant and reception area, eight miles of trails, a 15-acre botanical garden and a suspended bridge over the Costa Rica River, which borders the site. The master plan includes several educational pavilions, a small lodge, a butterfly habitat, an amphitheater and astro-logical observatory, stations for recycling/composting and organic sewage treatment.
The preserve is just a few kilometers from the Braulio Carrilo rain forest, a Costa Rican national park President Clinton visited last year to demonstrate his commitment to preserving "sustainable development," a concept that promotes balance between comfortable, abundant lifestyles and the conservation of natural resources for future generations.
Tolpinrud, a real estate broker and author of a manual explaining green technology, said the goal of all involved is to show that rain forest can be preserved and still be profitable.
"Nature has to pay for itself," Tolpinrud said, noting that deforestation wouldn't occur if uses besides destructive ones - logging, mineral extraction and cattle grazing - were known to sustain themselves.
Scientists only know the benefits of 10 percent of the species in the rain forest, he said.
"The potential for pharmaceutical benefits is immense," Tolpinrud said. "We'll never know what's lost in our rush to clear the forests."
The San Francisco-based Rain-forest Action Network estimates that 2.4 acres of rain forest are destroyed per second. If these rates continue, nearly all of the world's tropical rain forest ecosystems will be destroyed by 2030, according to the network.
Mark Westlund, the network's communication director, said the kind of development spearheaded by Tolpinrud and partners is by far preferable to more destructive types and called it a "good measure," as long as visitors and developers continue to tread lightly.
It's not uncommon for private individuals to buy chunks of rain forest and set it aside or use it for ecotourism, Westlund said.
Tolpinrud said the preserve's modest revenues are generated by Costa Rican and American students and ecotourists. A study is being conducted to monitor impacts on the forest, which will eventually determine how many people can be safely shuttled through.
The three partners have put about $120,000 into the development in addition to the purchase price, money Tolpinrud said he doesn't expect to get back. They are now seeking outside help to complete the project.
On Sept. 10, the owners of Bosque Lluvioso transferred the property for $5 to the National Biodiversity Institute, which, in return will maintain it until expansion and receive 20 percent of the profits.
After the event, Rodrigo Gamez, INBio's general director, wrote in a letter to Tolpinrud: "Yesterday (Sept. 10) was one of INBio's more important and exciting days in our history. The land will be of great help to INBio's training programs. Our bioliteracy program received a great boost with this donation."
Tolpinrud, Connelly and Robinson will fund the expansion and lease the property for 99 years. The two parties will establish an advisory board.
See (www.bosque-u.com) for more information about the project.