Feb 222005
 
Authors: Katrina Tamminga

Spring Break is not just a time to unwind and kick back. It is also a time to volunteer.

Several students from CSU and volunteers from Fort Collins and Denver have combined to form Team Achiote, a group that will travel to Achiote, Panama, over Spring Break and provide assistance to the community.

Paul Hellmund, an assistant professor of landscape architecture, initiated the trip. He was born and raised on a military base on the Panama Strip and returned to Panama a few years ago. While there, he had the idea to bring a group of students and community members to the area.

"People want to make a difference," Hellmund said, "but they also want to make a connection with those they are helping. For the students especially, working on a real project with a real purpose that will make a real difference is the best education."

Achiote is located just outside of the San Lorenzo National Park, which houses the Panama Canal, formerly known as the Panama Strip.

Here, the Panamanian government opened the Museo de Panama, a museum designed to increase tourism and show off Panama's Panama by referring tourists to other parts of the country. Biodiversity is the variety of organisms found in an area.

One area referred to by the museum is the Achiote Road. The Achiote Road is one of the top birding spots in the world and home to more than 400 species. The road leads to the village of Achiote, however, few people actually venture into the village because there is little for tourists to do there.

Team Achiote's goal is to change this. The members' hope is to attract the tourists already visiting the Achiote Road in Achiote.

"We hope to create a place that people will want to visit," said Lynne Hull, an environmental artist who works with wildlife habitat restoration in the Fort Collins community. "The idea is that our services will help promote the economy in Achiote and attract people who would normally have not gone past the Achiote Road."

The group's plan is to build a viewing area at the base of the largest tree in Achiote that will look out over the San Lorenzo National Park and offer a place for visitors to enjoy the world-renowned Panama and landscape.

Hellmund said the Achiote people should have a lasting impact on the team and believes the team will be impressed with the villagers' integrity.

"I talked with people in Achiote about what matters to them," Hellmund said. "They showed me that intelligence and integrity are independent of education and wealth. I hope our group from Colorado will pick up on that and share it when we return."

Kirk Longstein, junior natural resource management major, will be one of the students on the trip. Longstein said he is excited to meet people and explore the area. He also said he hopes to show people that alternative spring breaks can be more meaningful than the typical trip to Cancun.

"I want the community to acknowledge that these trips are not out there," Longstein said, "and it is really not that crazy. We are going with people who are giving it a shot, which I think is admirable."

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