Once upon a time, much of the area we know now as Metropolitan Manila was a heavily forested area lying on the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountain range in Eastern Luzon.
The situation changed beginning the 1960’s and the growing urbanization of the metropolis that arose beginning that period. The thick forests had to give way to business districts and residential complexes to meet the growing needs of a growing population.
There is, however, one significant part of the metropolis that still has its forested vegetation intact, which happens to be the most important part of the metropolis. The area we are referring to here would be the La Mesa Watershed.
The centerpiece of this area is the La Mesa Dam, an earth dam with an area of 27 square kilometers that can hold up to 50.5 million cubic meters of water. La Mesa Dam itself plays a vital role as the main supplier of water for the metropolis and its booming population. But over the years, climate change that eventually contributed to long dry spells coupled with uncontrolled population growth has made the dam experience difficulties in meeting those needs.
Surrounding the dam is the watershed forest, which happens to be the only remaining forested area in Metro Manila today. Being the only large forested area left, its existence is vital as it serves to provide fresh air in the midst of the pollution that is ruining the lungs of the metropolis.
But the watershed area was close to death by the end of the 20th century as illegal logging, illegal settling, and poaching threatened the existence of the forest while the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, the agency tasked to administer the watershed was helpless to stop it due to lack of funds. Environmental group Bantay Kalikasan of ABS-CBN entered the picture in 1999 as it began the process of rehabilitating and reforesting La Mesa watershed.
With these efforts, the La Mesa Eco Park was conceived and opened to the public 5 years later. A nature park of such scope that is hard to find in an urban area these days, aiming to provide not only an alternative venue for leisure and bonding activities, but also to raise awareness on our environment.
The park hosts a number of amenities such as a 5-hectare picnic ground with cooking provisions, a swimming pool that uses natural salt instead of chlorine, a lagoon for boating or fishing, even an open air ampitheater, orchidarium, and a fitness trail for sports enthusiasts or those looking for a good workout.
Being near the La Mesa Dam, you can also somehow get close to see the wide expanse of water the dam holds. Unfortunately you cannot take photos or video of the dam itself. (unless you get away being sneaky)
Despite the mall culture that pervades the metropolis these days, seeing the number of people who go to La Mesa Eco Park is testament enough to the great need of many people in this urban jungle for wide open spaces, especially those that are close to nature. It is only fitting that the people behind La Mesa Ecopark get a pat on the shoulder for creating this refuge and preserving one of the few remaining natural sanctuaries in this urbanized environment.
Still, the struggle for the survival of La Mesa is a long way to go as the struggle for a more sustainable metropolis is still being waged. In fact work is still in progress in reforesting the rest of the watershed that was left in neglect and endangered due to human activities. But the visible progress we are seeing is a sign of hope that things can be done.
For more information about La Mesa Ecopark and how to get there, you can visit this website www.lamesaecopark.com. You can also learn more about the ongoing efforts in the conservation of the La Mesa Watershed at www.lamesawatershed.com.
© The Urban Roamer