Last week, Karen and John Lewis, the visionary founders of Lapa Rios Ecolodge in Costa Rica, celebrated the realization of a conservation dream that will result in the permanent protection of more than 900 acres of virgin rainforest in the Osa Peninsula, one of the most biologically rich regions in Central America.Twenty-plus years ago the Lewises liquidated their assets in Minnesota to finance the purchase and preservation of 1,040 acres of virgin rainforest in Costa Rica and to build a small, supporting ecotourism project. Post university, they had both worked for the US Peace Corps in Kenya, where their conservation and sustainable tourism ethic first took hold.
“In 1990, we wanted to find a large enough piece of property that would make a significant contribution to forest conservation,” says Karen Lewis, about their decision to focus their energies on the Osa.
They had big ideas but still weren’t sure how to get from A to B. Determined to achieve conservation goals in a manner that would involve and engage the local community, they set about building Lapa Rios Ecolodge, situated on roughly 10 acres overlooking the Golfo Dulce, and turning the rest of the property into a private nature reserve. The lodge quickly became a leader in ecotourism, employing locals as lodge staff and guides while helping to fund and support conservation initiatives.
The Lapa Rios Reserve, some 900 acres in size, provides an important buffer for neighboring Corcovado National Park and serves as a wildlife corridor for the incredible array of species endemic to the region. Because of its intense biodiversity, the Osa is one of the last strongholds of the jaguar in Central America, and is home to all four Costa Rican monkey species, including the squirrel monkey, white-faced capuchin, mantled howler and spider monkey. Other Reserve inhabitants include the three-toed sloth, tamandua anteater, Baird’s tapir, poison dart frogs, 350+ bird species, as well as the venomous fer de lance and bushmaster snakes.
The Lewises wanted to take something personal and make it permanent and everlasting, regardless of who holds title to the land or owns the Eco Lodge business. That’s where the conservation easement comes in. Undertaken in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the Costa Rican land conservation organization CEDARENA, the easement turns the Lewises personal commitment into rainforest conservation with a binding agreement that ensures the Lapa Rios Reserve is preserved in perpetuity.
The easement comes with strict guidelines around land use. It prohibits all extractive activities, such as mining, forestry and hunting, as well as further building expansion, even putting a cap on trail construction to a maximum of 15,000 meters (there are currently 10 km of trail in the Reserve.) At the same time the easement encourages both scientific and educational activities on the reserve, which fits well within the Lewis’ goal of setting a conservation example and their guiding motto: “No matter how you cut it, a rainforest left standing is worth more.”
“We hope that this conservation easement will set a precedent across the land, even globally, using land for other than extractive purposes,” says Lewis. “This signing is what we’ve been working towards from the very beginning and now I feel we have truly accomplished what we first intended.”
Whether honeymooning or taking a family vacation, Lapa Rios Eco Resort is an ideal setting for your next vacation in Costa Rica.