- Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge, Barú, Costa Rica
The Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge (Hacienda Barú) is a private nature reserve located in the southern Pacific zone of Costa Rica, just across the Barú River from the town of Dominical. It has almost 330 hectares (800 acres) of protected area with three kilometers of beach frontage and one kilometer of riverbank.
Hacienda Barú encompasses primary and secondary tropical wet forest, swamp forest, mangrove estuary, riverbank and seashore, as well as areas that contain several different species of timber, fruit orchards and pasture. The Refuge supports its wide spectrum of wildlife habitats from its relationship with the adjacent Hacienda Barú Lodge’s tour operations and, to a small degree, silviculture.
The separately owned Hacienda Barú Lodge (www.haciendabaru.com) is surrounded by the Refuge’s lands and shares its mission of protecting the site’s natural resources in perpetuity, providing opportunities for education and research, supporting the local community, and creating a model that is replicable everywhere.
- Mid-1940s: Homesteaders settle the region and title the land.
- 1951: A single owner creates present-day Hacienda Barú as a beef and dairy farm, clearing forest for pasture and building a house and corral that no longer exist.
- Late-1950s: Last report of a jaguar on the ranch when the foreman’s dog is killed.
- Early 1960s: Costa Rican government improves jeep trail that is today the paved coastal highway.
- 1972: American investors bought the property and hired Jack Ewing to oversee a 150-head beef operation.
- 1976: Ewing prohibited hunting on the land and negotiated the exit of a squatter who had burned nearly 30 acres of primary forest on the upper portion of the property. Today that land includes the jungle campsite, which has been kept relatively open to facilitate the observation of birds. Ewing also oversaw the selective logging of about half the mountain forest, which rapidly regenerated itself.
- 1978: Ewing became a partner in the property’s ownership and moved with his family to the hacienda. He experimented with growing rice, soybeans, sorghum and cacao. None proved successful, and he let the land return to its natural tropical rain forest.
- Early 1980s: The owners prepared an ecologically oriented development plan, which has since been used as a model elsewhere, and cut canals to the ocean to complement the natural drainage for the hotel zone.
- 1986: Electricity came to the region.
- 1992: Steve Stroud purchased the shares from Ewing’s partners, stipulating that the Ewing family remain on the site and that Hacienda Barú become an ecotourist operation.
- 1993: A Canopy Observation Platform was constructed, and four new cabins were added to the two already in use.
- 1995: President José María Figueres signs a law making Hacienda Barú a National Wildlife Refuge.
- 1996 – present: Tourism has grown quickly, thanks primarily to the creation of a network of self-guided trails in the low lands, the popularity of canopy tours and the overall transformation of the region from an agricultural economy to tourism.
- 2005: Steve Stroud and Jack Ewing separated joint ownership, with Jack taking the cabins and tour operations (Hacienda Barú Lodge) and Steve retaining ownership of the rest of the hacienda. They continue to work closely together as their businesses are mutually dependent and built on the principles of ecotourism.
- 2007: Ewing added six cabins and a swimming pool.
- 2008: the Costa Rican government expropriated 25 acres from the hacienda to widen and pave the coastal highway.
- 2011: Steve Stroud used the funds from the expropriation to create the Hacienda Barú Biological Research Station.
- 2012: the Ministry of the Environment declared the 200-meter strip of land along the coast a Natural Patrimony of the State, acquiring its ownership and ensuring its protection.
Aerial photo of Hacienda Barú in 1953
Aerial photo of Hacienda Barú in 1977
Aerial photo of Hacienda Barú in 1997
Aerial photo of Hacienda Barú in 2007