This is Our Charco, Our Natural Protected Area
Text and photos by Antonio De Jesús Aguado
In the mountains of San Miguel de Allende there is a natural treasure, home for rainfalls, streams, and a canyon, a refuge for all kind of birds, reptiles, and plants. The zone covers a total of 66 hectares and has been declared, with 300 additional hectares, a Natural Protected Area by the federation.
The National Commission for Natural Protected Areas (CONAP), a department of the SEMARNAT (Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources) has declared the total surface of 380 hectares (939 acres) a Natural Protected Area, including the Charco del Ingenio, a property of the civil organization Jardín Botánico. The protected area includes also the federal wetlands formed by the Colonias and Obraje dams and the canyon. Certification as a protected area is good for 99 years. César Arias, president of El Charco del Ingenio A.C., commented that with this protection, the Charco has a stronger commitment to be preserved for locals, expats, and visitors. There is also a bigger commitment to continue with the educational programs.
In addition Arias commented, “The process of this voluntary certification for the Charco was very easy and quick because the organization has registered all the works of preservation for 23 years and has provided an inventory of all the natural resources of the zone.” The president of the organization also mentioned that they own the second biggest collection of cactus and succulents after that of the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico). Arias stated that the certification is a commitment of the organization to preserve the area. He noted that they will not receive financial funds from the government, but from the private sector.
The indigenous people recovered their territory
During the conquest, the canyon of the Charco del Ingenio was an area full of natural springs. Later, due to the drilling of wells, most of the springs disappeared. The one that remained was later called Charco by the natives. According to Arias, all the sources of water in the past that could be used for industry were called ingenios (factories) and the name of Charco del Ingenio comes from there. Also, in colonial times, a batan (water mill) was constructed, which was used to beat and clean the wool and to grind grain.
Arias commented that San Miguel has seven canyons: La Lejona, El Valle, The Park, Atascadero, the Market, the nearby CBTis, and the Charco del Ingenio. In 1989, a group of citizens, including Bob Haas and Mario Mendoza, realized that San Miguel was growing fast without urban planning. They wanted to protect the Charco from urban constructions. Through civil organizations, they got the money to buy the 66 hectares which were then used for grazing livestock. “The area was devastated,” they said, “and we wanted to protect the area that had a great natural, historical, and landscaping value.”
After getting the land, the organization first constructed terraces to prevent the erosion of the soil. The group later reforested it with native flora. The fauna arrived and reproduced by itself. At that time, they also started the collection of cactus and succulents.
On July 11, 1991, San Miguel had not only the century’s total eclipse of the sun, but it also had the opening of El Charco del Ingenio to the general public, inaugurated with a ceremony in its native place. The members of the civil organization decided to invite several dance leaders from town to hold an ancient ceremony that was addressed to the four winds, and the total eclipse of the sun was engraved in stones on the Plaza of the Four Winds, where a cross of conquest was found.
The celebration of the holy cross is celebrated annually on July 11. This, according to Arias, was a conquest by the indigenous people, who were stripped of their territory to construct an industrial area in the past. In 1991, they had it back.
The legal part
César Arias has been in the organization since the foundation of the Charco. In 2006 he had that area and 300 more hectares appointed as a Zone of Ecologic Preservation by the city council with a buffer area of a 300 meter radius, where those who want to construct housing developments must respect several rules, such as constructing one story houses that must have low population densities and must respect and preserve the local flora, avoiding the introduction of exotic species. The plots must have a maximum measure of one thousand square meters. In the 2009-2012 administration, the city council approved a Regulation of Preservation of the Ecologic Zone of the Charco del Ingenio and nearby areas, which must be observed, not just by the developers, but also by the local authorities. Although the protected area has a total of 380 hectares, the Charco has in its custody only 66. For that reason, Arias noted, “We will take care of our area, and the municipality has the duty of taking care of the rest as well as the buffer area.”
A visit to the park
When in El Charco, visitors immediately notice huge succulents and all kind of bushes and cacti. The route is marked with tracks, some of them leading to Las Colonias dam that comes from the Picachos and during the rainy season spills water on its parapet feeding the canyon and ending in the Allende dam. The wetland of Las Colonias is a sanctuary for turtles, plants, and fish. In the meantime, the water follows its path and forms natural waterfalls where the visitors can get close. On their path, strollers can see reptiles resting on rocks and colorful butterflies pollinating the flowers. They can be surprised at any time by birds flying from one tree to the other. A spectacular panorama of San Miguel with the natural sound of the stream is an experience to be enjoyed here.
Currently, environmentalists, citizens, and members of nonprofit organizations are working with the state government to get an appointment to include the Támbula and Los Picachos volcanoes, as well as the Ignacio Allende dam, as part of the Natural Protected Area, in an extension of 34 thousand hectares. The process will be difficult, says Arias, but the state government has hired historians and biologists who are working on the project. By next year, those interested in that project could have an answer. If the area is declared officially protected, the state government could fund its preservation.