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Go the extra mile to save our forest
by Nana Aoyong

Untitled Document Running gives me a rush, but even more so when it’s along the scenic trails of Baguio where I can breathe in the fresh mountain air, hear the sounds of brushing leaves, and feel the cool air on my cheeks while I run. I run in the middle of the pine forest to get into better shape and enjoy the quiet beauty of nature all at one time for the trails give me a perfect scenic venue for the sport that I love. But it truly breaks my heart to see the trails of Baguio City slowly losing their beauty and to the trees that cover them also slowly dying.

More health enthusiasts join the latest crazes of running and biking and there is certainly a surge in the popularity of these forest trails as a place for training. From the busy and polluted roads, many runners and bikers have taken the turn to doing these activities in the uphill and downhill of the woods. Despite the hard dirt, slippery roots and rocks, and the branches to avoid, the trails offer more privacy for runners, bikers, and trekkers. For some, being one with nature as they train or exercise stimulates their mind and body more. For others, the pine forests offer more relaxation when they run, bike, or hike.

There are many threats to these forests that arise each day. These include the soil being carried away by heavy rains and blown by strong winds, or for other reasons we cannot control. Unfortunately, most of the pine trees in these trails and in the other parts of the city die because of human irresponsibility.

For the past 15years, I have been lucky to live in a place surrounded by the Philippines’ most beautiful trails but I often wonder how much of these areas will be left untouched. Knowing that the city and its people see tourism as an easy way to make money, it would be interesting to know if the city government’s elected officials and the department responsible in looking after these areas also have programs to preserve and manage these trails not only for the locals of Baguio City to appreciate and enjoy, but also for the tourists who visit the city as well.

A couple of months ago, the city launched a new tourist attraction in the middle of one of the most visited trails in Baguio City. The Zip Line operated by the Tree Top Adventure Philippines (TTA) was finally opened in Camp John Hay. The project is said to be environment-friendly and was given the permit to construct and operate as the company promised to plant 1,000 pine trees.

It is an interesting attraction indeed as it has been giving the city another place for the tourists to enjoy and experience. Steel towers were constructed right in the middle of the Yellow Trail where the runners, bikers, or hikers pass and it is in these same areas where people standby as they wait for their turn to try the Zip Line, which makes it very dangerous for the bikers. I have experienced making sudden and emergency stops in these areas for some tourists do not give way.

Sadly, developments in these trails will never be slackened but will continually grow especially after the success of the opening of this newest attraction. It is unfortunate, too, how some areas have already lost their serenity and privacy. Most often than not, trash are left everywhere by those people who visit these places. Our city should have an environment-friendly tourism and educate these tourists to respect and take care of our forests.

When asked of his thoughts about Baguio’s famous Yellow Trail, Carlos Anton, a fellow-runner who was born and raised in Baguio tells me, “I grew up in that area as a young boy with my dog, and only got reunited with the grandeur of these trails when I started running. I somehow had forgotten how beautiful they were and the peace it brings me each time I run there.”

Carlos adds, “I would hate to lose it to future developments. Maybe the government should advertise its beauty more as a tourist attraction so more people can appreciate Baguio City and, thus, fight for its preservation. We already lost the beauty of the old Camp John Hay and I would like my son to at least enjoy the trails and forests in the future.”

Raoul Floresca, a Level 1 Triathlon Coach and owner of The Starting Line Multisport store, says, “Running in the middle of a pine forest is not something you can experience in Metro Manila or other cities in the country.” Raoul grew up in Baguio but is now based in Manila. He recalls how he spent his weekends as a child running and hiking on the trails surrounding Camp John Hay. For him there are many simple steps to achieve the awareness of these trail-users such as. Teaching them to respect and preserve these areas by putting signs to remind them not to litter and to be courteous to other trail users. “Managing the number of people who access these trails is very important because too many people can lead to damage and erosion,” he points out.

Mountain biking is among the most popular recreational activities in the trails and for Jojit Balajadia, owner of Explore Bikeshop and a resident of Baguio City, it is as simple as creating a program to raise awareness and educate not only the locals but also the tourists who visit the city’s trails. Jojit, together with his friends, regularly ride their bikes in these trails. He suggests that when events are held in these trails like races, cleaning up and planting trees should be mandatory and regulated by the city government. Cutting of roots should also be prohibited for this makes the trails unsafe.

Adequate funding by the government is surely needed to preserve these forests and the rules and laws of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources should be very strictly implemented and taken seriously. For the remaining pine forests, it would certainly not hurt to turn these into trails to encourage more outdoor activities that would promote environmental awareness, instead of allowing these areas to be filled with squatters and illegal settlers. In the meantime, the locals and residents of Baguio will keep their fingers crossed that these remaining areas that can still be preserved and are in the custody of the DENR would be left untouched and protected. We hope that these government agencies responsible for the protection of the forests and business establishments would not exploit our environment for money.

It is true that planting billions of seedlings and replacing century-old trees are being implemented in the city, but still, that does not and should not give anyone a good reason not to preserve and keep the old trees.

As a travel writer and photographer, I have been promoting Baguio City as a place that is not only famous for its strawberries and jams, but for the lined pine trees, perfect weather, its natural beauty, and the warmth of its people. If we do not work together to protect our environment, or if we let irresponsible citizens to just cut down trees or leave them to dry and die, we will one day have no right calling this city the City of Pines.
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