Situated in the century old Osmeña Reforestation Project (ORP) at Camp 7 Minglanilla, 15 kilometers from Cebu City is the Cebu Experimental Forest (CEF), currently supervised by the Biodiversity, Coastal, Wetlands and Ecotourism Research Center (BCWERC) of the Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (ERDB). This biodiversity-rich area offers opportunities for nature and ecotourism. However, ecotourism activities are relatively minimal due to inadequate infrastructures, insufficient marketing and promotional campaigns, and accessibility problems.

Various socio-civic organizations, public and private institutions, including groups from the academe had the chance to visit CEF-ORP. Optimists find this idyllic haven a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life. However, to four graduating students from the School of Architecture, Fine Arts and Design (SAFAD) of the University of San Carlos (USC) in Cebu City, the promotion of ecotourism in Camp 7 would have a tremendous impact and can contribute significantly to community development if more infrastructures are in place and existing eco-trails are enhanced.

This motivated the USC-SAFAD students - Jadon Bernedo, Matthew Chua, Ezra Mae Sarceno, and Philip Suzuki to come up with architectural strategies that highlight the agenda of ecotourism and feature a multi-purpose public space for recreation, resting, adventure, environmental education, and greening activities. The group unveiled their plans of an impressive ‘Eco–Trail Project’ at the CEF in Camp 7 Minglanilla. Architectural design was presented to mentors and evaluators comprising BCWERC – ERDB Center Head, Dr. Alicia L. Lustica; Mr. Rudy and Louella Alix representing Movement for Livable Cebu (MLC); and media representative, Ms. Eileen Mangubat at the SAFAD Theater, USC Talamban Campus, Cebu City last October 20, 2017 . The Eco-Trail’s schematic design provided graduating students an opportunity to study the land area and document resources within CEF, as basis in designing the 3D digital and full-scale structure models of the proposed Eco-Trail project. The impressed evaluators offered feedbacks to help the students fine-tune their designs and work towards improving their plans.

According to SAFAD Dean, Arch. Joseph Michael P. Espina, they expose their graduating students every year to municipalities within and outside Cebu to help them conceptualize a community project design of their choice. SAFAD students went as far as Tangub City in Misamis Occidental Province and Siargao in Surigao to come up with a suitable architectural scheme.

Dr. Alicia L. Lustica, Center Head of BCWERC advised students to give emphasis on the maintenance of the ecological value of the CEF. According to Dr. Lustica, visual presentations should include structures that are feasible, using indigenous materials. She deemed the project very impressive for it offers a fresh aspect of ecotourism that surely will help boost the tourism industry of Cebu in the near future.

Writer-columnist of Cebu local daily, Ms. Eileen Mangubat also suggested to include in the presentation a clear concept on the heritage concerns and to assure that people or would be tourist will not think of the project as a ‘Disneyland’ kind of thing. She further advised the group to consider incorporating the carrying capacity, an important facet in the management process of nature based tourism projects.

Before the actual presentation, students also showed mentors/evaluators a diorama that presents an illustration of the various structures in the Eco-Trail project. Student-presenters valued the comments, anticipated positive feedbacks, and are hoping to reap conservation benefits from the eco-trail project, thus help the local community promote ecotourism. Ann F. Jumawan, BCWERC