Refica Attwood is a busy woman.
The director of Antigua and Barbuda’s first community-managed national park, environmental advocate, recently recognized by the Queen, mother of two, and community leader is getting ready for “Wellness Summer”.
“It’s an opportunity to get the whole community involved here. Kids can come and get dirty, learn about native plants, and have fun doing it!”
These are the kind of creative and innovative ideas going into Wallings Nature Reserve, the 1,680 acres of rainforest in the twin-island state, on a monthly basis. The reserve has become an emblem for sustainable tourism across the Caribbean as the region is adapting to the existential challenges of climate change.
Garnering recognition in both the conservation space and as an advocate for women and local communities, Refica Attwood has turned Wallings into a bonafide environmental movement, hiker’s paradise, sustainable tourist destination, reforestation biosphere, and sanctuary so many people in the community call a home away from home.
Sustainable Antigua and Barbuda
Antigua and Barbuda is an independent Commonwealth country made up of its namesake islands as well as surrounding smaller ones, positioned where the Atlantic and Caribbean meet. It’s known as ‘the land of 365 beaches’ with corrugated reefs, deep rainforests, and vast underwater ecosystems.
Barbuda is home to the largest frigate bird colony in the western hemisphere, with over 170 species of birds in the sanctuary. It’s a paradise for our feathered friends and those who love to observe them.
After Hurricane Irma in 2017, Antigua and Barbuda created “The Green Corridor”, a designated area of Antigua where tourism businesses adhere to sustainable principles and were one of the first places in the Western Hemisphere to ban single-use plastic.
Many Caribbean nations are starting to develop sustainable tourism initiatives that intend to protect people’s livelihoods and preserve the natural landscapes that make this region one of the most idealized in the world.
The Start of Wallings
Refica grew up as a logger within her beloved forest, all that remained after the British razed Antigua’s tropical forests to plant sugarcane three centuries ago. She began to notice the area trampled underfoot by by visitors hosting large events, leaving their rubbish and residue behind. She began to document the damage and put forth a business plan to the U.N. suggesting how to save the space.
Since this a-ha moment, Refica has nurtured an entire movement with Wallings at the center, turning it into a sustainable tourism destination, teaching both visitors and locals alike about reforestation, tree planting, hydroponics, and fire management, among the seemingly endless community-strengthening initiatives.
The income generated by tourism supports a host of members of the community who work as rangers, tour guides, and artisans, as well as their families.
And people are paying attention. So far this year, she’s been recognized by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as the 226th Commonwealth Point of Light in honor of her exceptional voluntary service in creating Wallings. GlobalWIIN awarded her as one of the remarkable Caribbean women serving as an innovator and inspiration to women, and the Wellness Tourism Association (WTA) gave her the first Leading Light Award.
Visting Wallings Nature Reserve
If coming to Antigua and Barbuda, visiting the park is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and from 5 a.m. every weekend. Here are some activities to try for families and friends:
Do a self-guided hike or a hike to Signal Hill.
A perfect opportunity for trekkers with bigger kids (or littler ones that fit in a carrier), families can learn about wildlife and the conservation of the reserve efforts. If you make it up to Signal Hill, the second-highest point of Antigua, you can see stellar views of Barbuda, Guadeloupe, Montserrat, St. Kitts, and Redonda. If you want to meet Refica herself, book the VIP Tour.
Learn about reforestation.
A three-hour experience helping the Wallings Nature Reserve team reforest the second highest hill on Antigua.
Do the Eco-tour.
Learn about the water catchment, the history of the area, flora, fauna, and the birds, do a walk across the trenches, and stop at a picnic area. Sounds perfect.
For culture buffs, check out the John Hughes Village Tour.
A two-hour tour throughout the neighboring village gives insight into the history, arts, and gastro culture of the local communities and Antigua and Barbuda.
Don’t forget birdwatching, yoga, and other activities.
Try out birdwatching at the button pond, try out a yoga session, or even a forest massage.
Refica is showing the world that a local community does have the power to make a difference in the fight against climate change, empowering women, and youth and promoting gender equality all the while. Let’s celebrate her.