Q&A with Martha "Pati" Ruiz Corzo of Sierra Gorda Ecological Group

In October 2011, I traveled to Chiapas, Mexico for the Adventure Travel Trade Association’s Annual World  Summit.  While there, I had the fortunate opportunity to meet Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo (“Pati”) between seminars.   Martha “Pati” Ruiz Corzo is the founder of Sierra Gorda Ecological Group and former federal Director of Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve in Querétaro, Mexico.  She has won accolades and awards for her dedication to environmental protection in the Sierra Gorda Mountains of Mexico.
My short meeting with her certainly left a lasting impression.  It’s not often that you meet a person so passionate about the environment and conservation.
We thought our readers might like to know more about Sierra Gorda so we recently caught up with Martha “Pati” Ruiz Corzo (MPRC) for a quick interview.
R2R:  What makes Sierra Gorda so special?
MPRC: Sierra Gorda is an area in which the protection of our territory has been built up in a participatory way for 25 years, a live case study of climate change and poverty mitigation practices. One hundred and sixty-seven activities are carried out, such as mobilization of citizens to carry out restoration and regeneration of natural resources, best practices in livestock management and agriculture, community environmental education, development of productive reforestations and ecotourism. In addition, we have 24 micro-enterprises that we continuously support.
Sierra Gorda is a living natural exhibit with 14 vegetation types and incredibly beautiful scenery that still retains its wild character, both in terms of biodiversity and the rural society that inhabits these mountains.

Cuatro Palos Overlook - Sierra Gorda, Mexico

Sierra Gorda is unique as a tourist destination due to the social capital we have, with intrinsic participation of local, community-run, micro-operators.
R2R:  How did you become involved with the project?
MPRC:  As conservation operators in a biosphere reserve in which the land is nearly all privately owned by the inhabitants of the Sierra Gorda (only 3% of the reserve is federal land), the administration of the protected area is very complex due to the need for economic and social development opportunities. So in response to this need, we are developing ways to place an economic value on the services of nature, such as the scenic beauty of the Sierra Gorda, which represents capital for communities through a culture of tourism. By building infrastructure for local micro-operators and improving customer service, we are building a bridge between local communities and the external public.
R2R:  Can you explain how community members are receiving economic incentives to preserve the area’s forests and biodiversity?
MPRC:  We currently have 40,000 hectares of forest with 400 beneficiaries that are receiving payments for capture of carbon and water, who are registered with the national program for payment of ecosystem services.
Our work also results in new skills and many days of paid work restoring steep hillsides as well as carrying out harvesting activities in reforestations that we have established over the years.
We have generated an annual income of 33 million pesos for activities that have come out of our model, which has become a paradigm in the Conservation Economy of the Reserve.
Chuveje Waterfall - Sierra Gorda, Mexico

R2R:  What can travelers expect if they visit Sierra Gorda?
MPRC:  A visitor in the reserve will find inherent hospitality in their hosts, delicious gastronomy, and eco-lodges to suit the needs of any traveler, from the most difficult to please, to family groups who come to camp.
Nature tourism in a variety of different expressions: hikes, cycling, horseback riding, canyoning, educational experiences, culture and traditions.
Macaws in flight - Sierra Gorda, Mexico

An active society on the way to building regional sustainability.
The pleasure of a simple life with great internal rewards and a transcendental life experience.
R2R:  When we met in October at the Adventure Travel World Summit you shared a story of a nickname given to you by your son.  Would you mind sharing that story with our readers?
MPRC:  Due to my privileged opportunity of living in touch with nature and while enjoying incredible family moments, I was honored by one of my sons when he gave me the name Jabalí Rojo (red wild boar). It fulfills me as a nickname as it represents tenacity and strength in numbers, characteristics which reflect my inner feeling and the persistence that characterizes me.
R2R:  Is there anything else you’d like to add?
MPRC:  That it is time to recognize our relationship with the Earth, our fraternity with biodiversity, and the internal satisfactions and transcendental capital we should generate as we walk through life. That to come to the Sierra Gorda is an unforgettable experience due to a communion with the assets of the extremely poor, an unknown experience in our materialistic society. The blessing of nature as a refuge of life of which we are custodians in the Sierra Gorda, a last, well-conserved stronghold of wildlife.
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Sierra Gorda Ecotours:  Sierra Gorda Ecotours was created as a business for conservation whose objective is to promote the unique tourism opportunities of the Reserve within a network of eight locally-owned and operated eco-lodges and campgrounds. Sierra Gorda Ecotours creates sustainable livelihoods for the Reserve’s inhabitants through supporting small local handicraft businesses and eco-tourism establishments.
The mission of Sierra Gorda Ecotours is to facilitate the introduction of tourists to the natural and cultural richness of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve. Through tourist services they promote learning, observation and participation in the conservation of the region.
Visitors to the Sierra Gorda can explore tropical forests, deserts and cloud forests on guided hikes, mountain bike rides or on horseback, enjoy excellent bird watching and wildlife observation, and experience the traditions of rural mountain    communities.
For more information on tourism opportunities in Sierra Gorda check out http://www.sierragorda.net/ecoturismo/index.php or contact us at www.ReefsToRockies.com.