Holly Burke

Students and faculty from Cal Poly’s landscape architecture and city and regional planning departments returned Monday from Copan, Honduras, where they worked to conserve and protect the Mayan ruins and its surrounding environment.

The project, funded by the World Bank, is in collaboration with students from Honduras’ Centro De Diseno, Arquitectura y Construccion (Center of Design, Architecture and Construction) of Tegucigalpa. It is also in collaboration with the Honduras Institute for Tourism, local businesses, professional architects, designers, archeologists, anthropologists, biologists and members of the local community.

Upon arrival, less than five miles from Copan, the students and faculty were faced with what would prove to be a major issue in their project: a mudslide.

“We had traveled for just under 24 hours and were on a bus less than five miles from Copan when the bus got stuck in the mud,” said Joe Donaldson, a landscape architecture professor. “It was almost dark and we were up to our knees in mud trying to hitch a ride down the road. It was fun.”

Donaldson said the project was “all about the water.” The Copan River has changed drastically over the decades due to deforestation. It is now a fast running river that has already eroded some of the ruins.

The groups met to devise a plan to stop erosion by using sustainable strategies of planting and farming. Currently, the surrounding locals’ staple crop is corn, which is problematic because the crops are on steep hills. The corn does not support the earth, which can bring mudslides like the one the students experienced. The groups came to the conclusion that crops like coffee and bananas would better support the steep land, and corn could be grown in flatter areas.

One of the groups meeting with the students suggested that the land surrounding part of the ruins be made into a golf course. However, Cal Poly faculty and students did not agree. Landscape architecture senior Rodolfo Castro said, “It is not (the Mayan) lifestyle to golf. We have golf courses here. People do not go to other countries to experience golf courses.”

“The project was not only to protect and preserve the archeological ruins, it’s really to look at the sustainable future for the whole area. It’s how you sustain the people there, the environment and the ruins.,” Donaldson said. They also plan to plant a native forest canopy to secure the earth near the rivers edge. Donaldson also said that locals were receptive to change and the groups were eager to learn from each other.

By involving both the students of Cal Poly and Centro De Diseno, Arquitectura y Construccion of Tegucigalpa the Honduras Institute for Tourism could capitalize on the free advice given by faculty and students. City and Regional Planning junior Mike Austin said, “Not many businesses and firms are willing to work for free. So situations like this allow professors and students to help and learn.”

Castro agreed and said, “Not just Honduras, but many developing countries are in the same situation. They are developing so they need (planning) projects like this to help get them started.

Both students felt they had learned a lot during the trip. “When you get pulled out of Dexter lab at Cal Poly and thrown into an international site it is a whole different experience. It was the best experience of my life.,” Austin said.

They also found the project rewarding. “You know that when you leave you are going to have a final product that is going to benefit everyone down there. It will provide jobs for people, beautify the area and support the habitat. That’s the best feeling, that we made a lasting difference on a big scale,” Austin said.

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