January 30th, 2019 was a big day in Finca Cántaros history, as the ownership changed hands from Gail and Harry Hull III to me. When Gail bought Cántaros back in 1994, it was cattle pasture. Over more than two decades, Gail has poured her heart and soul into reforesting the land into a beautiful nature reserve hosting countless native species of trees, plants, birds, mammals, and more. She has supported artisans in Costa Rica and beyond through her well-known crafts store located at the property entrance. Harry is a master organizer and a MacGyver when it comes to setting up creative systems that help enhance the Cántaros visitor experience. Both are passionate nature photographers who have captured their unique surroundings and its wildlife in spectacular photos.
Gail and Harry have been an important part of the San Vito community, supporting local environmental and social causes, and making everyone feel welcome at Cántaros. They will be dearly missed by their many friends and neighbours. However, they feel ready to return to the States for family commitments, knowing that they have passed the torch along to a new owner who is equally dedicated to the Cántaros mission of conservation.
So, who is this new owner? I’m a Canadian who fell in love with Costa Rica on my first trip in 2003, when I came to volunteer for project that helps protect sea turtles. However, it was my passion for environmental education, conservation, and birds that brought me back to the country repeatedly between 2008 and the day I officially became the new dueña of Cántaros.
In 2008, I was a Masters of Environmental Studies student at York University, and learned about the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s BirdSleuth environmental education and science curriculum. I decided to ask if I could adapt, translate, and field-test it for the first time among Costa Rican youth as my Masters project. The answer to this fateful question was yes, and it set me on a path that involved pursuing a PhD at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, while collaborating with the Cornell Lab to expand the reach of BirdSleuth International (or Detectives de Aves) throughout Latin America. I later became a Postdoctoral Associate in the Education and Citizen Science programs at the Lab. Thanks to the job title, I often find myself needing to clarify that I am not a biologist or an ornithologist. Though I’m an avid birder who has absorbed many random facts by virtue of immersing myself in amazing ecosystems and in the company of people far more knowledgeable, my formal background in the social sciences has focused on environmental education, sense of place, and other topics.
As I spent more and more time in Central America, I decided to turn my longstanding dream of moving here into a reality. Fortunately, ongoing projects in San Vito in collaboration with the impressive San Vito Bird Club (as well as another remarkable organization in Guatemala, Community Cloud Forest Conservation) allowed me to meet Gail and Harry, who in turn introduced me to their magical world; a world called Finca Cántaros. And the rest is history.
I feel very privileged and excited to have this opportunity to build on Gail’s inspiring work, as I continue to conduct research in collaboration with the Lab. I will keep the private nature reserve open to the public and the Cántaros store running with the help of a fantastic couple, Yei and Marylin.
Please stay tuned for future updates on the exciting new environmental education, research, and reforestation projects in the works! – Lilly Briggs