Family in Monteverde

Quakers, Pacifists & Protection: The History of Monteverde, Costa Rica

Family in Monteverde

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve ranks among the most beloved ecotourism attractions in Costa Rica, drawing around 70,000 visitors each year.
It’s easy to see why: With six different ecological zones (including 90% pristine forest habitat), the reserve boasts extraordinary biodiversity, containing around 100 mammal species, 120 reptilian and amphibian species, 400 bird species, and more than 2,500 plant species. It also has a Nature Center, bat jungle, butterfly gardens, frog pond, serpentarium, and an array of hiking trails, suspension bridges and ziplines.

But, long before the reserve was established in 1972, the nearby town of Monteverde had been settled by American expats who moved to Costa Rica in search of a more peaceful way of life. And it was these people who originally decided to protect the forest habitat from development.


The roots of what became known as Monteverde, Costa Rica date back to the late 1940s. Quakers – also known as the Religious Society of Friends – are a notoriously peaceful, anti-war people. After four young men from their community were imprisoned for a year as conscientious objectors to the Korean War draft, a group of 44 Quakers (comprised of 11 families) moved from Fairhope, Alabama (just hours from IE's home offices south of Birmingham) to the San Jose area in 1950 in search of a better life.

They were drawn to Costa Rica in part due to its climate and the agricultural possibilities it offered, and in part by President Pepe Figueres’ invitation for foreigners to help develop his Central American country. But perhaps most important of all was the fact that Costa Rica had recently disbanded its military entirely, offering the Friends (as Quakers call themselves) an opportunity to start fresh and live peacefully.

The Friends relocated to the San Jose area briefly while searching for a permanent home in Costa Rica. They eventually found a 3500-acre swath of land straddling the Continental Divide in the Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range, near Puntarenas. They named it Monteverde, which means “Green Mountain,” for the verdant plants that grew there.

After purchasing the land, they divided sections of it up to create farms for the individual families, while reserving a central area for their mutual use. This was where they eventually built the Monteverde Friends School, a Meeting House and a community-driven business, the Monteverde Cheese Factory. Tours of the Factory, where you can learn about the area’s history and sample their 17 cheeses and delicious homemade ice creams, are still available daily.

By the late 1960s biologists had begun to conduct research in the Monteverde area at the request of Costa Rica’s National Planning Office. After Quaker leader Hubert Mendenhall took conservation scientists from San Jose’s Tropical Science Center to see the primary forests that surrounded the community, they recommended that the Friends should preserve them in order to protect their homes and water sources.

The Quakers soon set aside 1300 acres they called the Watershed Property, which ultimately became among the first private nature reserves in Costa Rica.

In 1972, George Powell came to Monteverde to do doctoral research on the birds of the area, which include species such as the swallow-tailed kite, the piratic flycatcher and the resplendant quetzal. Amazed by the remarkable biological diversity of the cloud forest, Powell was equally alarmed by the damage being done to Monteverde by hunters and land squatters.

The young grad student subsequently arranged a deal with the Guacimal Land Company (from whom the Quakers had bought their land) to donate land if he could form a civic association to help oversee the property. Coincidentally, the Tropical Science Center had a program to create private reserves for purposes of research and ecological education. With their help, Powell used his personal money to buy out several squatters and ultimately acquired 810 acres from GLC for a grand total of 1 colón (less than one U.S. dollar) in 1973.
Now, more than 40 years later, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve has grown to encompass more than 46,000 acres of cloud forest, providing protection to a diverse array of flora and fauna. But it might never have happened if it weren’t for a small group of Friends from Alabama simply searching for a more peaceful way of life.


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