General information
Summary
Description
Threats
Recommended solutions
Conclusions
References

 

 

 

             
Guatopo supplies water to Caracas and other nearby towns (photo © César Aponte)

 

Guatopo was relatively free of significant human settlement before the Spanish arrived in  the 16th Century. There were indigenous tribes living throughout the foothills, to the west, north, and east. Some of these tribes survived until the 17thCentury, when descendants of African slaves colonized the eastern sector.  At the beginning of the 1950s, before the park was created, there was intense occupation of the western and southern portions of the park, in the Lagartijo and Orituco watersheds. There were subsistence, semi-commercial, and commercial systems, mostly focused on coffee, fruit, and tubers production and to a lesser degree on extensive grazing, and timber and firewood extraction. The agricultural colonies established by European immigrants at the end of the 19th Century, including two coffee plantations, were virtually abandoned by the end of the '50s (Yerena and Escalona 1992).

 

The highway built in 1953 between Santa Teresa del Tuy and Altagracia de Orituco favored the intense settlement process that followed. Both rural farmers and land speculators who were interested in subdividing and urbanizing vacation plots spontaneously settled along the highway. In addition, timber resources in the Taguaza and Taguacita watersheds were exploited (Yerena and Escalona 1992).

 

In 1960, more than 4,000 families lived in Guatopo. After paying benefits to 3,167 families, there were several isolated cases along the central northern part of the park and in the municipal capital Quiripital in which inhabitant rejected the eviction and relocation plan (Yerena and Escalona 1992). Today, Quiripital and the neighboring community of La Democracia, located in the Lagartijo watershed, subsist within the park because they were only partially vacated. The park director, or  superintendent explains that they have been allowed to stay because they are a parish (territorial) capital. According to the 1990 census, there are 51 houses (OCEI 1994), a police headquarters, and medical center in the area. Inhabitants mostly work in Ocumare del Tuy, although some farm surrounding areas. It seems like inhabitants are very aware of the park norms and comply with them; they definitely recognize its existence. The situation is similar in the small towns of El Pegón and Palma de Taguaza, along the highway in the sector between Santa Teresa and Los Alpes del Tuy, where there are 10 and 3 families, respectively.

 

Most current inhabitants live in the Cuira watershed, which was incorporated into the park in 1985 and where the relocation process has been only partially carried out . The 1990 census showed that there are 246 families in the zone. During our field visit, the director informed us that there are 108 families dedicated to semi-commercial agriculture (cacao, fruits, and tubers in humid zones).

 

The highway crossing the park is extremely important since it unites two economically significant centers in the Tuy Valleys and the Central Highlands. Heavy vehicles with products and agricultural goods constantly use the highway. This road was partially damaged in 1999 by natural landslides that affected other parts of the country as well. Evidence of the landslide and the road's repairs can still be seen, mostly because large portions of land were cut away to stabilize the road. In addition to the highway, there is other infrastructure within the park that was built before the park was declared, such as parallel electrical lines (300 Kw and 250 Kw) that cross the park from southwest to northwest and the pipeline that crosses the park from southeast to west.

 

Tourism

 

Among the national parks, Guatopo has a few of the best recreation facilities, some of which take advantage of the old plantation buildings. The recreation areas are found in the sectors of Mirador Príncipe Bernardo, Agua Blanca, Santa Crucita, El Lucero, Quebrada Guatopo, La Colonia, and La Elvira Plantation.

 

Agua Blanca recreation area is the most often visited by tourists. There is an information center, kiosks, restrooms, park guard station, cabañas, camping zone, wells for bathing, "Los Monos" camp (which is a house for large groups), and the historical-cultural site where the old sugar mill called Gandolphi is located.  (The mill was used to process sugarcane from the nearby fileds.) There is also a natural interpretation trail that reaches Santa Crucita, where there is a lake and small camping area.

 


Visitor facilities in the Agua Blanca recreation area (photo © César Aponte)

 

La Elvira Plantation is another important historic-cultural site within the park. It used to be a coffee plantation and still remains intact. On plantation grounds, there are information booths, camping zones, restrooms, park guard stations, several short hiking trails, and one long trail that connects to La Colonia Park Guard Station. It should be noted that there are hiking trails throughout the park, many of which were old routes. For example, there is La Guzmanera trail that starts at La Macanilla Park Guard Station, and the Colonia Independencia trail that starts at La Colonia Park Guard Station. However, because there are few hikers and not enough maintenance equipment, vegetation has grown over many parts of these trails.

 

     
La Elvira Plantation is a historic-cultural site dating from the 19th Century (photo © César Aponte)

 

There is no registry of park visitors, however annual income from park entrance fees was approximately 600 USD, which translates into approximately 2,500 visitors per year. However, the number is most likely larger since Agua Blanca is the only recreation area charging fees. Most tourists are family groups from Caracas or the Tuy Valleys that visit the park during the weekend, mostly concentrating their visit to Agua Blanca and Guatopo Creek. 

 

Water supply systems

 

As was previously mentioned, one of the objectives for establishing Guatopo National Park was to protect the Lagartijo, Taguacita, and Taguaza River Basins in full, and part of the Orituco River Basin. These rivers possessed sufficient water to increase water supplies to Caracas and other nearby towns. At the time of its establishment, there were also plans to dam these rivers to generate a flow of 30 cubic millileters, which was greater than the sources closer to the capital.

 

The first dam to function was the one on Lagartijo in 1962.  Then Taguacita began operating in 1984 and Taguaza in 1997. All of these dams are part of the Tuy Production System administered by the state company HIDROCAPITAL, of which the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources is the largest shareholder. These three dams cover approximately 50% of Caracas' water demand; Caracas is a city of 2,762,759 people (last census in 2001) (INE 2004).

 

The Guanapito Dam, built on the Orituco River, is just south of the park's borders. It began operations in 1963 and only supplies water to the towns and agricultural zones in the Central Highlands in Guárico State. The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources directly administers the Guanapito. Construction on the Cuira Dam, which is located partially within park borders, began in 1985 but work has been stopped. This dam will also supply water for the capital city once it is completed.

 

The following table summarizes the dams' maximum and actual volumes:

 

 

Maximum volume (m3)

Actual volume (m3)

Lagartijo

64.839.367

33.459.473 (1)

Taguacita

120.000.000

Not available (2)

Taguaza

184.000.000

145.487.605 (1)

Guanapito

49.040.000

26.960.000 (3)

 

(1) Source: HIDROCAPITAL (2004). Day's level on August 18, 2004
(2) There are no official data, but on July 20, 2004 the reservoir levels were high 
(3) On July 15, 2004

 

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