(The following English-language description of the The San Pablo Etla Conservation and Environmental Education Center–a.k.a. “La Mesita”–comes from the San Pablo Etla Ecotourism Office.)
San Pablo Etla (SPE) is a small town (about 12,000 inhabitants) that sits just north of the northern edge of the municipality of Oaxaca de Juárez, about 25 minutes from the historic center “zocalo,” the main square.
Water scarcity is a classic problem in Oaxaca, especially because much of the tree cover has been removed by commercial logging and for farming and ranching over centuries. SPE has voluntarily converted 3000 hectares of its communally owned forest into a conservation zone in which no logging, farming, cattle ranching, or other commercial activities are allowed. The portal into the conservation zone is the Conservation and Environmental Education Center designed and built by the community, called “La Mesita” that sits at about 1900 meters AMSL. La Mesita is the most distinctive and complete environmental practice and learning site in Oaxaca. It includes a growing number and variety of techniques designed to demonstrate how simple “water harvesting” and erosion control techniques can convert barren rocky hillsides into verdant expanses that support reforestation, wildlife conservation, and other important environmental values.
La Mesita has been developed by the SPE Comisariado de Bienes Comunes (Commission on Common Property), an elected body of local long-term citizens charged with conserving and using local resources sustainability.
When you visit La Mesita, you will have a guided tour in Spanish or English. You will encounter many features as you walk on the Learning Pathways with “teaching stations” that explain conservation techniques and many other attractions, including the following:
- A traditional adobe meeting hall, used for group gatherings by many groups in the city;
- “Lorena stoves” in the kitchen, built for demonstrating firewood conserving and health promoting cooking facilities, used for meals in the meeting hall;
- A windmill assembled from used parts and photovoltaic panels charging batteries that provide sufficient electricity for short meetings;
- The “Leaning Tower of San Pablo” built as a playground installation;
- The “Eco-commitment Overlook”;
- Dry toilet facilities, demonstrating water conservation, linked to a multi-stage filtration system;
- “Noah’s Ark” facility built on top of a rainwater storage tank and used for small meetings and environmental education;
- “Biodiversity Bungalow” – a small cabin with breathtaking views of the spectacular forest reserve – where visitors will learn of the reserve’s rich biodiversity, including many wild animals;
- A greenhouse for cultivation of native species that are replanted on the site and in the larger reserve as part of the community’s reforestation and biodiversity preservation efforts;
- Oaxaca’s largest collection of agaves – from which Mescal and other products are made;
- And several monumental pieces of outdoor artwork donated to La Mesita by local artists and international students that relate art and nature.
Beyond La Mesita, the road into the forest reserve will lead you to:
- Cabins about 16km above La Mesita for rent as ecotourism facilities;
- Pathbreaking conservation measures in the forests above to reduce and eliminate the impact of pine bark beetle infestation;
- “Camera traps” identifying and quantifying wildlife in the forests above;
- Extensive hiking and mountain-biking trails that draw numerous hiking visitors and adventure-bikers;
- A model community-owned water capture system drawing water from mountain springs for transport via tubes to the village below;
- Extraordinarily beautiful flora.
SPE’s voluntary conservation zone is one of a small number in the state of Oaxaca. Work at La Mesita has been supported by small grants from a wide range of Mexican government institutions, private foundations, and contributions of labor and financial resources from a large number of local community residents.
REGENERATION OF DEGRADED LAND AT LA MESITA