ProParques, a non-profit organization made up of academics, conservationists and employers dedicated to strengthening Costa Rica’s national parks, teamed up recently with the National Conservation Area System (SINAC) and the Foundation for the Development of the Central Valley Volcanic Mountain Range (FUNDECOR), to create Amigos de los Parques, a membership program that helps nature lovers protect and preserve Costa Rica’s national parks.
The membership program, launched last September, is perfect timing as Costa Rica celebrates this year the 40th anniversary of the founding of its first two national parks, Santa Rosa National Park in northern Guanacaste province, and Poás National Park in Alajuela province, north of San José.
Currently, 12 of the country’s 28 most-visited national parks are participating in Amigos de los Parques: Poás, Irazú, Guayabo, Palo Verde, Carara, Manuel Antonio, Corcovado, Cahuita, Tortuguero, Arenal, Rincón de la Vieja and Santa Rosa.
The Amigos de los Parques program offers four membership levels. Each offers access to a national park community website, a subscription to Amigos de los Parques’ online newsletter, and discounts of up to 25 percent at more than 250 businesses, including hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops. Annual memberships also come with a map of Costa Rica and a small gift.
The Morpho Membership, “named for a shimmering blue rainforest butterfly,” is valid for 14 days and costs $39. Morpho is directed at foreign tourists and grants access to three of 12 national parks. The Turtle Membership, also aimed at visitors from abroad, is valid for one year and costs $100. Turtle members receive nine admissions to any of the participating parks. The Macaw membership, geared toward local and foreign nationals, is also valid for one year, but offers two cards for $100. Both members receive 30 admissions to any of the participating national parks. And finally, for diehard conservationists, the $500 Jaguar membership offers two cards and invitations to exclusive events.
Funds from membership sales are invested back into Costa Rica’s national parks. Half of the profits from the Amigos de los Parques program will help pay for park rangers’ needs, including uniforms and supplies, and the other half will be spent on park infrastructure projects.
Rocío Echeverri, executive director of ProParques, said the program has already helped the organization buy ranger uniforms and translate trail signs.
Although memberships are only valid for 12 national parks, program funds will be distributed to all 28 national parks. “When we’re investing in infrastructure,” Echeverri said, “of course we might decide on investing first on the most visited ones, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that only those 12 will be benefited by our program.”
A commission, made up of three SINAC employees, two ProParques employees and one FUNDECOR employee, will decide how money will be invested and which projects are most relevant.
Affiliated businesses that offer discounts to members are called Orchid partners. Other affiliates, known as Tropical Forest Founding Partners, demonstrate their commitment to the environment by donating $1,000 to Amigos de los Parques annually. The organization, which currently has 41 businesses in this category, hopes to recruit a total of 100 to support the program.
Since the program’s inception four months ago, the Morpho membership has been the most popular. “We’ve been working a lot with local tour operators that are supporting our program and currently we have more than 700 members,” Echeverri said. “It’s basically from the support that we’re getting from local businesses here in Costa Rica that are buying our memberships for all their customers.”