Sons Carry on Father's Dream of a Forest





This article appeared on page B2-3 of the 17 November 2008 edition of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

By Maricar Cinco

Inquirer Southern Luzon

BAY, LAGUNA- The Forest Club Eco-resort here, located at about 65 kilometers or about 30 minutes from the Calamba Exit of the South Luzon Expressway, resembles a path of forest at the foot of Mt. Makiling that embraces three natural hot springs and a Jacuzzi right at the hub.

More so, it is a hodgepodge of everything expected of a natural flora -- having a butterfly border (flower bed), a lagoon, and herbal garden and one hectare of farmland.

“So much is possible in 2.5 hectares,” said 42-year-old Wawel Mercado, who is the operations manager of the family business.

Using public transport, one may take a bus bound to Sta. Cruz, Laguna and get off in the town of Bay to reach the Forest Club, which is located between Barangay Puypuy and Barangay Masaya.

In 1993, Wawel’s father, Antonio, bought a piece of barren land “to create the environment of his childhood” he once had in Mindanao.

After consulting environmentalists in UP Los Banos, he started planting trees and rebuilding his paradise.

However, Antonio passed away in 2000 due to heart failure.

The family then decided to open the resort more regularly to customers in order to cope with the growing expenses but without putting behind Antonio’s vision.

“This is where our dad’s heritage is, so we thought it only appropriate to run the resort in an eco-friendly way,” Wawel said.

 

Indigenous

“We saw how this land transformed, and the key to it was planting the right trees,” Wawel believed.

Reforestation, he added, is not simply planting trees but “you have to know which types will grow in an area.”

Most of the trees his father sowed were tropical lowland forest trees or dipterocarps, such as dao, bagtican, lauan, molave and narra.

Wawel said planting indigenous trees or those that naturally grow in the Philippine soil would help sustain the local wildlife.

The diversity of plants is as much important for nature to achieve its own balance and keep an area alive.

“It becomes a habitat, where there are predators and preys. In effect, they cancel out each other. There are pests but there are those who eat the pests,” Wawel explained.

The parasitic insects, for instance, feed on the plants but at the same time attract the birds.

“Three years ago, we had a survey and found about 21 unique species of birds that naturally migrated here because they make food out of insects,” Wawel said.

A dozen of butterflies have also become a regular guest at the Forest Club when they started propagating flower-bearing shrubs at the butterfly border.

Today, there are over a hundred forest trees and 150 species of plants at the Forest Club.

 

Ecofriendly

When he was younger, Wawel was fascinated with trees naturally generating fertilizers for themselves.

“I did not know the details before, I just knew it happened,” he said.

He believes this interest, plus his inclination to recycle scrap papers, made his task of managing the resort much easier.

Apart from segregating their wastes at the eco-resort, Wawel learned to adapt vermicomposting or the use of worms as catalyst for decomposition.

Dried leaves falling off the trees are collected and composted for earthworms to feed on and the worm castings are used as organic fertilizer.

The caretakers were also taught to vermicompost and the plants they have grown are sold through a cooperative for their own extra income.

They also took advantage of organic methods, such as the use of a biomass stove to which dried twigs and wood are used as fuel to cook meals at the resort.

Doing away with chemical pest controls, they raised ducks that will feed on the snails that destroy the farmland.

Not only are these methods protecting the environment but these are also cost-efficient for the business, Wawel said.

 

Group activities

Forest Club ideally caters to corporate team-buildings, seminars and conferences.

The venue can accommodate about 250 people for day trips and around 80 for those who wish to stay overnight.

Facilities, such as the Canopy Walk (a 14-foot-high hanging bridge), bamboo rafts, a rope bridge that crosses a lagoon and obstacle courses for about 50 icebreaker challenges are set up for the guests.

If  requested, Forest Club may also arrange for facilitators  to conduct team-building activities.

Guest may also visit an herbal garden of sambong, taheebo, aloe vera and other medicinal plants. Here, the family erected  a figure of the Virgin Mary in memory of Antonio who was a devout Catholic.

“I guess he didn’t see it fully (but) it is us who saw the transformation,” said Wawel, remembering how his father’s ideas came to materialize.

He and his brother Robbi carried on the dream of rebuilding an almost  pristine forest and even transformed it to a way of life.

He believed the Forest Club and “anything we do (here) must teach people how to appreciate the environment better.”

Guests may visit www.theforestclub.com  for more information and reservations may be made through Maien Clarino at (02) 376-4623.

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