Aguas Calientes Park Ranger Post
Photo: Eduardo Gonzalez
Henri Pittier National Park was declared the first Venezuelan National Park by presidential decree No. 102, published in the Official Gazette No. 19,188 in 1937 (Estados Unidos de Venezuela 1937). The administration and management of the park pertains to the Instituto Nacional de Parques (National Parks Institute), or INPARQUES), an organization under the Ministerio del Ambiente y de los Recursos Naturales (Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources), or MARN.
Originally called Rancho Grande National Park, it was renamed Henri Pittier in 1953, in honor of the man whose efforts resulted in the consolidation of this protected area (Estados Unidos de Venezuela 1953). Pittier, a Swiss engineer and a naturalist and botanist, realized the importance of these forests and struggled untiringly to preserve the ecosystems existing between the coast of the Caribbean and the valleys of Aragua and Carabobo (Luy and Morales n/d). In 1974, the park’s area was increased by a government decree, adding an extra 17.800 ha to the original 90.000 ha, to give the park its current total area. (República de Venezuela 1974).
This protected area was created to preserve the ecosystems of the Coastal Mountain Range, especially the cloud forest, estuarine and coastal environments, as well as to protect its biodiversity, particularly those endemic, rare, vulnerable or endangered species. This area also protects important water sources that supply nearby towns, and it provides a space for research, recreation, and environmental education (República de Venezuela 1995).
The Management Plan for Henri Pittier National Park was conceived in 1995 (República de Venezuela 1995). According to current legislation, these plans should be revised every five years, but, in the case of this protected area it has not yet been done (MARNR 1992b). The Management Plan (Decree Nº 668) proposes the division of the park into nine sections, according to the value of natural resources and existing uses, described as follows:
• Integrated Protection Zone (IP): Access is restricted. Only research and monitoring activities are allowed, under the supervision of INPARQUES. It covers a broad range of the park, especially the higher elevation zones and large buffers along both sides of most of the creeks, some of which extend to the boundaries of the park. The IP zone includes El Paso de Portachuelo.
• Primitive or Wild Zone (P): Access is restricted. Access is allowed exclusively for research, monitoring, and educational activities and allowed only under supervision of INPARQUES. This zone is located in a parallel corridor between the coast and the IP zone. It also includes some beaches, coves, limestone rock massifs, and hiking and interpretive nature trails.
• Managed Natural Environment Zone (MNE): The activities allowed in this area are low impact recreation, educational activities, and camping. It includes the beaches of Cuyagua and Catica, the ecological camp Simón Machado, part of the Ocumare wetland, a strip on the beach of Cepe, and scenic overlooks and inns along the roads for tourists.
• Natural Recuperation Zone (NR): These are the areas that are being restored after human impacts. It covers the mountainous sector of the southern slope between the IP zone and the park boundary, the basin of Rio Grande del Medio, the southern part of Cumboto, the Las Monjas waste disposal site, and the entry to the Ocumare wetland.
• Recreational Zone (R): Open to the public for recreational activities. It includes the recreational areas of Las Cocuizas, La Trilla, La Loma, Polvorín, part of the beach of Cuyagua, and the ponds of La Planta, El Ajao, and Los Colores.
• Service Zone (S): Includes all roads, parking areas, the Rancho Grande Biological Station and all INPARQUES facilities. It also covers the Rancho Grande Restaurant, the old Hotel Santa Barbara and other buildings that belonged to the former Public Works Ministry.
• Zone of Historical, Cultural and Paleontological Interest: Includes the historical cacao facilities and plantations and other interesting cultural items, such as the old Choroní hydroelectric plant and the Uraca generator, petroglyphs and other evidence of pre-Columbian cultures, ruins of old houses and farms, and the Rancho Grande Biological Station.
• Special Use Zone (SU): This zone covers the towns of Cepe and Chuao, the Las Monjas settlement, the Romerito-Uraca-La Loma region, the villages La Trilla and Aponte, the Turiamo Naval Base, El Castaño Mineral Water Plant, the National Armed Forces facilities, the Fire Fighters Group, PROFAUNA (fauna management office), the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN), and the National Company for Reforestation (CONARE), the roads, power line zones, the Cata electrical sub-station, some hills, and stations of the natural disaster prevention system.
• Indigenous Population Use Zone: Covers historically important settlements, such as Cepe.
This park has eleven ranger stations, four fire lookout posts, and a work force of 19 rangers to attend to them. There is only one vehicle available, which was originally assigned to firefighting, but is used for general transportation during the rainy season. There is a shortage of communication equipment; none of the ranger stations have radios to contact their headquarters. The firefighting groups (most of which do not pertain to INPARQUES) are fairly well equipped, although not ideally, to effectively carry out fire fighting tasks (Pérez 2004a). The installation of nine hydrants to be used in these efforts has been considered (Sapienza 2004) and instruments for the detection of potentially dangerous rain conditions have recently been updated (nine precipitation sensors and six mud sensors) (Pérez 2004b).
As with other national parks in Venezuela, this protected area does not have a fixed annual budget. The management only receives an allowance to cover basic needs for park maintenance (such as gas for vehicles), but this does not cover any unforeseen expenses that could arise.