Over the years I have written quite a bit about the need for the Government of Jamaica to fully harness the natural resources of our beautiful Island by designating them national parks and developing them accordingly. Though a relatively small land-mass Jamaica has a litany of beaches, mountain-range, waterfalls and other natural attractions which are unique only to Jamaica.
I have always believed that as our country struggle to find ways to deal with the economic conditions associated with our ever exploding population, harnessing all of the Island’s natural treasures for the benefit of the people is critical.
To date Jamaica is the 6th most populous country in the world, that situation is not likely to change for the better any time soon. Any plan which is intended to create wealth and prosperity must be comprised with the elimination of waste and corruption as well as taking full advantage of our national treasures even as we take care to preserve them for generations to come.
The concept of national parks is not a novel concept, it has been done throughout history in nations all across the globe. The United States has done a remarkable job of designating millions and millions of acres of land under the national parks program which has preserved the pristine nature of those hectares while generating income for the Federal Government and providing employment for hundreds of thousands of American citizens.
The parks were born because in the mid-1800s a relatively small group of people had a vision—what writer Wallace Stegner has called “the best idea we ever had”—to make sure that America’s greatest natural treasures would belong to everyone and remain preserved forever. “Americans developed a national pride of the natural wonders in this nation and they believed that they rivaled the great castles and cathedrals of Europe,” explains David Barna, National Park Service Chief of Public Affairs.
Yosemite was at the heart of America’s nascent national parks movement. The California valley’s splendor inspired some of its earliest European visitors to demand protection, even as settlers moved ceaselessly westward, “civilizing” the West and displacing native peoples. Elegant voices, like that of naturalist John Muir, brought the grandeur of such lands to those who had never seen them. His prolific and widely published writings stressed how such wild places were necessary for the soul, and his advocacy later became the driving force behind the creation of several national parks. Responding to such calls, Congress and President Abraham Lincoln put Yosemite under the protection of California during the Civil War. In 1872 Lincoln’s former general, President Ulysses S. Grant, made YellowstoneAmerica’s—and the world’s—first truly national park. More parks soon followed suit and, beginning in the late 19th century, cultural sites like Arizona’s prehistoric Casa Grande were honored as well.President Theodore Roosevelt was one of the park system’s greatest patrons. During his administration (1901-09) five new parks were created, as well as 18 national monuments, four national game refuges, 51 bird sanctuaries, and over 100 million acres (40 million hectares) of national forest. http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/national-parks/early-history/.
I was thrilled to see the new Administration in Kingston announce that a plan was being developed to have German help for Jamaica to develop parts of the Blue Mountain range into a national park. Though thrilled about the idea I believe the plan has not gone far enough in harnessing every treasure under the government’s control and developing them where possible into national parks.
It’s important that it be understood that a national park does not mean taking a piece of land and putting in fountains, flowers, and other niceties. In many cases the exact opposite is true. The idea is to maintain the natural pristine nature of the place with minimal changes necessary to make it attractive and a source of revenue for the Government and people for generations to come.
Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett in seeking to address the continued problem of tourist harassment is contemplating legislation which would give the Courtesy Corp power of arrest as a means to cutting back on the harassment of visitors to our Island.
The Courtesy Corps a group of security officers which operates under the Tourism Product Development Company since it’s creation in 2009 would be a smiling, warm and friendly look, while at the same time have a strong and forceful hand to deal with situations as they arise,” if Bartlett gets his way.
The issue of National parks, Tourist harassment and the inevitable explosion of Cuba as a tourist destination in the near future offers the leadership in Kingston the opportunity to think big rather than trying to do piece-meal approaches.
What is the obsession with creating other police forces? How about a broader idea which includes a National Parks project taking into consideration the aforementioned reasons and designate the existing courtesy corp “park rangers”?
If we have learned anything from our experiences as Jamaicans it is that having more security guards does nothing to reduce crime. It’s hard to imagine any country with more security guards per square miles than Jamaica, yet we are right up there as one of the most violent, most murderous places on earth.
There seems to be an obsession with creating little pseudo police forces which accomplish precious little except to exacerbate the crime situation on the Island when the focus should be on upgrading and equipping our police force.
As a young constable, I spent a great deal of foot patrol hours in the resort towns of Ochi Rios, Negril, and Montego Bay, dealing with the problem of harassment. Our efforts were a resounding success as it related to arresting and removing drug dealers and those who aggressively pushed trinkets on visitors while allowing vendors who obeyed the rules the opportunity to market their wares as they should to make a living.
The failure as it were must be owned by the business sector in these towns and the incompetent lazy Government which asked us to do the work while they banged on desks in Gordon House and bilked the nation’s coffers of its resources.
The business sector failed to use its influence to lobby the Government for tougher penalties for repeat offenders who were arrested selling drugs to tourists or who threatened visitors for not buying what they were selling.
The Government, incompetent and unconcerned did nothing about the issue either. In the end, the problem became too large, the courts were flooded with cases we had placed before them. The penalties for these offenses were certainly worth ignoring when stacked against the potential gains.
In the end travel companies guided their clients to all-inclusive resorts which literally cut out the local population from deriving any direct benefit from the tourism trade. It happened because Jamaicans kept electing incompetent hustlers and con-men/women who lack vision to make decisions on their behalf.
All of these issues must be looked at in a broader context which creates exciting new possibilities for our small nation only if we are able to look at the big finished picture instead of the little pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.
Who will begin the slow tedious work of creating the masterpiece Jamaica was destined to be?