By Ann Gill (M.A., ’76)
Since the 1990s, a significant portion of the tourism industry in Costa Rica has been ecotourism. One of the country’s early hosts for eco-tourists was Hacienda Barú, now an 800-acre National Wildlife Refuge on the Southern Pacific coast. A Colorado State University alumnus spearheaded that effort.
Jack Ewing (B.S., ’65) graduated with a degree in animal science. He first went to Costa Rica in 1970, in a DC-6 cargo plane loaded with 37 head of cattle. The cattle were part of a herd of 150 from Ontario, Canada, that were trucked to Miami then flown to Costa Rica. When Ewing and his family climbed into the cockpit of the plane, he was asked to his estimate the animals’ total weight. The pilot nervously responded: “You make mistake, maybe we die.” After a harrowing flight and three-bounce landing, the Ewings arrived at what would become their new home.
He began working for a meatpacking company that had cattle on several ranches in Costa Rica, one of which was Hacienda Barú. In 1976, he became part owner of Hacienda Barú, and in the 1980s, he and his wife began to offer tours and rent cabins and sleeping space in tents to tourists. Around the same time, his partners decided to sell out. A new partner agreed to purchase their shares if Ewing would stay, and Hacienda Barú’s focus became ecotourism.
They added more cabins and constructed the Canopy Observation Platform. Land that previous owners had cleared was allowed to reforest. Bridge and tunnel systems were constructed to allow animals to cross the coastal highway corridor safely. Hacienda Barú received designation as a National Wildlife Refuge.
These days, the most popular tour at Hacienda Barú is the Flight of the Toucan zip-line tour; an 89-year-old woman is the oldest to have taken it. There also is a Monkey Challenge obstacle course, which involves climbing a tree using climbing holds, traversing six rope bridges among the enormous trees, then jumping off a 10-meter platform while attached to a belay device that lowers you slowly to the ground. Of course, viewing the wildlife and jungle flora is a highlight of visitors’ experience.
From his childhood in Greeley and early employment in the beef cattle industry to an eco-pioneer in Costa Rica, Jack Ewing’s journey has been extraordinary. Like his alma mater, he became green, and at Hacienda Barú he created a model for ecotourism that others would emulate. He served as president of Association of Friends of Nature and of Foundation for the Path of the Tapir Biological Corridor. He also found time to write two books about his adopted country: Monkeys are Made of Chocolate: Exotic and Unseen Costa Rica and Where Tapirs and Jaguars Once Roamed: Ever-Evolving Costa Rica. This Ram not only is an eco-pioneer, he is an inspiration.