The Project: To raise interest and access to outdoor recreation in Panama by gathering information on the TransPanama Trail and documenting a thru hike.
What is the TransPanama Trail: The TransPanama Trail is a route that crosses Panama from the border of Colombia to the border of Costa Rica. By connecting a network of rural paths, the 700 mile route passes through jungle, mountains, country side and many rural communities. The TransPanama Foundation spent several years researching and designing the trail, finishing their first proposed route in 2009. Rick Morales, a member of the foundation and native Panamanian, was the first person to through hike the trail in 2011. The trail attracted a lot of attention internationally with outdoor recreation enthusiests.
Today’s Status: Although hiking in Panama is on the rise, since 2011 the momentum of the trail has fallen dramatically. The foundation TransPanama still exists but doesn't hold regular meetings and the website isn’t functioning. There's no easy way to get information about the trail. Because the route isn’t marked, it only truly exists in theory, captured on the GPS track that Rick Morales created during his through hike. One other person has hiked the entire trail, completing it over two years and every once in a while outdoor clubs or other adventurers have hiked short sections.
TransPanama Trail Needs: If nobody uses the trail it will cease to exist. The TransPanama Foundation did an incredible job designing the route but in order to move forward there needs to be more interest and information. As more people become interested in getting on the trail there will be more demand for information. In the United States the majority of the trails are maintained by groups of volunteers. For the TransPanama Trail to survive it will require the same sort of support. Between outdoor recreation groups and their version of a forest service/epa agency, MiAmbiente, Panama has the skills and motivation to create the support system necessary.
Benefits of the Trail: More than anything I view trails as an opportunity to build a more intimate relationship with nature, which promotes environmental conservation. Books, music, art, and movies can’t hold a candle to the inspiration you experience during a stroll in the outdoors. A well made trail serves as a portal to enter a living museum. On top of that, trail systems can serve as a source of pride and income for communities along the route. Hiking in Panama is gaining more attention and holds huge potential. Once recreation clubs and tourism groups have the information needed to access the trail, communities will also have more incentive to protect the trail corridor, helping to protect the incredible biodiversity of Panama.
My Investigation: On my hike I'm focused on two goals: One, the information necessary to create a trail guide and two, promoting activities that will raise awareness of the trail. These goals are important because without interest the TransPanama Trail it will never be developed and without the basic information needed to use it, no one will be able to take advantage of the incredible experience it offers.
Some of the information I will gather for the guide are; the roads that one can use to access the trail, the type of terrain one will encounter through different sections of the trail, services offered by communities along the trail like lodging, stores, restaurants, local guides, medical service, cell service, etc. The guide will also offer cultural information along the trail such as historic events, types of flora and fauna and regional folklore.
To raise interest in hiking in Panama I will utilize social media and give workshops. In addition to this blog, I'm using Instagram and Facebook to share short stories, photos and videos from the trail. On this blog you can follow my hike in real time on a Google Map that will be updated with my locations using GPS way points.
I have identified 20 communities where I will give a workshop about hiking and trails. The communities have been identified by their proximity to the trail and personal connections I already have. The country folk in Panama can be suspicious of outsiders so I have only focused on communities where I know a leader such as a teacher or Peace Corps volunteer, using them as my point of entry to connect with the people. My interactions with these communities will be crucial to the success of the TransPanama Trail because it passes through communities on an average of every 15 miles. If these communities on the route don’t understand what the trail is or why it’s important, it won't have the support needed by the people who will truly be her heart and soul.
My Qualifications: As an environmentalist and backpacker I'm inspired by exploring nature. I have hiked and camped all of my life, not only during my free time but also as my profession. In 2010 I spent 6 months on a through hike of the Appalachian Trail. In 2012 I worked with the Student Conservation Association on a professional trail crew and leading youth on trail projects. In 2016 and 2017 I worked with the NGO Caminando Panama to train park rangers in trail design and maintenance and I managed a trail project rehabilitating abandoned trails in a reserve. My experiences have given me the skills and knowledge necessary to understand how trail systems function and what they require to be successful and sustainable.
As a Peace Corps volunteer I have spent three years working with rural Panamanians on environmental conservation projects. Some of the projects we have been able to accomplish are community gardening, tree nurseries, reforestation, solar panels, building trails, and environmental education. I have learned how to communicate and work with the folks from rural Panama. Most importantly I love working with these people and the fact that this trail passes through their homes is a major motivating factor to complete this project.
How you can support me: I am prepared to embark on this project because it inspires me and I can envision the benefits of a successful project. I would like to see the TransPanama Trail be a source of pride for Panamanians and the hiking community.
I also invite you to support the project and the TransPanama Trail by following my hike on social media and sharing it with your friends and family. The more we raise awareness and interest, the more it will benefit hikers worldwide and the Panamanian communities along the this route.