Photo: Patrick Nouhailler, Santa Helena Parc
Origins of Monteverde
In 1948 when the United States passed a universal military training act, four Alabama Quakers refused to register, were arrested, and put into prison. One of the four, Marvin Rockwell, recalled: “After we were released, we thought, maybe we ought to leave the United States.” That same year Costa Rica abolished its national army, and the Quakers received a positive report on the possibility of relocating there. In 1951 a group of seven Quaker families moved to San Jose and with an agent from the Guacimal Land Company, began scouting various locations for settlement.
Finally, on a flight over the Continental Divide in northern Puntarenas Province, the Quakers decided to move to the verdant mountains near a small town named Santa Elena. With communal funds, they purchased the property and named their new home, Monteverde or “Green Mountain.” Rockwell explained how they distributed their land:
When we came up here we bought a track of 3,000 acres and set aside about 1000 acres at the headwaters of our little river here to be left permanently in forest to be a watershed and then divided the balance into farms and the farms were deeded to the individuals.
The Quakers supported themselves as farmers, an occupation most were accustomed to in the United States. Because of the distance between Monteverde and the nearby markets, the community decided to enter the cheese market, because the product would have a longer shelf life than milk or beef. This enterprise was such a resounding success that it began to incorporate Costa Rican farmers in the area, who began to sell their milk to the plant.
Monteverde remains physically isolated. It takes two hours from a turnoff on the Panamerican Highway to reach Monteverde. The gravel road has a gentle incline for the entire route; it overlooks mint green valleys and cattle pastures. Currently, there is discussion whether to pave that road, the settlers are debating the merits of increased tourism. In the thirty years since founding, Monteverde has attracted a larger citizenship, in part because of the founding of the Monteverde Biological Preserve.
In the 1960s George Powell came to Monteverde to research a unique species discovered in 1964. The male golden toad, colored a brilliant orange, lives only in the Monteverde cloud forest. Powell was so impressed by the Quaker’s conservation of the watershed that he sought means to protect more of the surrounding forest. He contacted international conservation organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund, and Conservation International and the Costa Rican Tropical Science Center. Funds were procured, land purchased, and the preserve was formally leased to the Tropical Science Center. Then, in 1972 the reserve was given protected status by the government.