User fee for Courland Heritage Park proposed

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

THA Secretary of Food Security, Natural Resources and Sustainable Development Nathisha Charles-Pantin –

A proposed user fee plus a broader user policy for the Courland Heritage Park are among several suggestions being examined by the Tobago Reforestation and Watershed Rehabilitation Programme (TRWRP).

On June 10, the TRWRP hosted its first public consultation at the Black Rock community centre, where residents and stakeholders spoke for several hours on plans for the use of the park and the TRWRP’s vision going forward.

The programme’s interim manager Kelly Manette said the TRWRP, after collaboration with the THA’s Division of Food Security, Natural Resources, the Environment and Sustainable Development, decided to review green spaces across the island under its remit. This, she said, comes with the aim of not only enhancing but also promoting sustainable use of these spaces.

“It is in an effort not only to benefit the residents but visitors to the island as well, and, of course, the long-term goal of sustainable growth of Tobago.”

She said along with the Scarborough Botanical Gardens and Little Tobago, the Courland Heritage Park is another green space that has engaged with communities to sustainably manage and develop Tobago’s finite green resources.

“The Courland Heritage Park user policy that is being proposed – it is a plan to sustainably manage this resource to not only benefit the community but to implement activities, to upgrade the existing resources to work alongside what is already in existence so our natural resources, such as the turtles coming up to nest annually, and again, to develop our human resources: to look at opportunities to provide income-generating possibilities for our communities as well as for all the stakeholders involved.”

Assistant conservator of forests in the Department of Natural Resources and Forestry Darren Henry said the proposal would just include the beachfront and Courland Park, noting it would have no impact on the nearby hotel or private residents.

“We would have proposed a few gazebos – we want to put in about five gazebos – and also, we were looking at putting in a concession area.

“All requests for use of the park must be done in writing and sent to the Tobago Reforestation and Watershed Rehabilitation Programme. The request will be basically re-evaluated, and approval granted on a first-come-first-served basis – up for discussions. Users are responsible for cleaning the park and cleaning up garbage after use.

“The thing is it’s on state lands and we are responsible for it as state officials, but we want to manage it in a way with you, the village council, being part of it.”Members at the consultation supported the idea.

Representative for the Black Rock Village Council Kelvin Charles proposed the vision should be extended from a few gazebos to include a permanent structure. This, he said, should be eco-friendly and complement the nearby sporting complex.

“So it’s going to be made of wood. That structure would have a number of features – office space, an outside stage to facilitate performances, a bar, changing rooms, communal area, dining area, kitchen, staffroom and toilet and bath.

“Where that is to be located it is that area that is closest to the river, and it is designed to be tucked in or nestled into that area without disturbing the trees and vegetation that are there.”

One resident, Wayne Samuel, said: “We in the Black Rock Community stand willing and ready to defend our community, our environment and all that is therein.”

Derek Achong commended the village council and the division on the initiative, saying at the end of the day, everything comes down to money.

“Currently, there are more than five local and international bodies that are geared to finance this kind of community activity. This is crucial, because if financing is obtained, then the user fee that is anticipated could be reduced to the point where there is a value to it, but the whole success and sustainability of the project is not dependent solely on that.”

Villager Allen Douglas felt should a user fee be implemented; the park should be developed.

“I don’t think refurbishing the toilets that are there already would be something that attracts people to actually come and pay a user fee. The village council has a nice proposal, and if I was you all, I would have encouraged the secretary to try and go in that direction, because actually what it does now is it brings people to the park to lime. etc.

“The best thing to do is to go hand in hand with the village council, so you’ll end up with a nice tourism-attractive kind of thing.

“To me, if you really want to do that user fee and go that direction, it is better to do some development that is attractive to some people, that would make you actually want to buy in to this project.”

In response, Manette said: “That is a very valid and timely contribution, because I myself have been very active in terms of the field of environment, and I do see the need and the benefit for the community as well as our natural environment.”