La Mesa Eco Park: Paradise found

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It used to be that fresh air meant going to Baguio, boating meant Burnham Park (again in Baguio), swimming pools meant Laguna, hiking meant Mt. Banahaw, and picnics meant Tagaytay. All those places entailed some planning and considerable budget.

What if there was one place that offered everything--right within the metro?

Since August 2005, the La Mesa Watershed Resort and Ecological Park in East Fairview has been the one-stop destination for all of the above. Quezon City residents and non-residents alike have been flocking to the park to commune with nature without actually going out of town. Anyone with at least a hundred bucks can go there on a whim.

Although Fairview is often regarded as being on the fringes of the city, it’s still relatively close. From Makati, going there would take an hour at least on a good day.

Once on Commonwealth Avenue, it’s pretty hard to picture how a natural enclave can sit in the middle of all the smog, traffic, and crowded streets. Past the imposing Sandiganbayan building, the reek around Manggahan, and the squatters on Riverside, unpolluted and breathable air would be most welcome.

Entering a fenced subdivision is even more unconvincing as the way to a park full of promises. But there on the outskirts of the suburb, all misgivings die and give way to awe when a high drop on the left is seen and a majestic expanse of water magnetizes with its soft waves on the right. It’s like being caught between the devil (the precipice looks like it well slides down to the bottomless pit, albeit covered in greens) and the deep blue sea--which is what kids will no doubt call the La Mesa Watershed. It’s a reservoir more than 70 feet deep, the principal source of Metro Manila’s drinking water.

The Ecopark spans 33 hectares, 10 of which is already operational. It lies within the La Mesa Watershed which measures 2,700 hectares and is straddled by Rizal Province, Caloocan, Marikina, and Quezon City. There’s even more greenery as one enters the park proper. This is no surprise as rare species of plants and animals are aplenty. Fifty pesos gives access to all the park has to offer from 8 AM to 5 PM all days of the week. Those inside before 5 in the afternoon can stay until 6 PM.

The swimming pool that is in its golden year is the centerpiece, which also makes the park double as a resort since it attracts a lot of swimmers daily, save for Monday when it is scheduled for cleaning.

There are trails for biking, jogging, or plain hiking.

Hikers would find it a challenge (or not) the stairway with more than 100 steps.

Bikes’ rental fees vary; mountain bikes cost P70 to rent, sidecars are between P70-80, go karts at P60. The cheapest are the kiddie bikes, which can be rented for P50.

Camping sites abound. One may set up a tent or a simple picnic mats under the umbrella of trees with big barks. There are also playgrounds for kids.

The Orchidarium and the Shell Flower Terraces are evocative of the Tuscan countryside or the Austrian hillsides. You’d almost hear strains of “the hills are alive with the sound of music” like Maria and the Trapp Family Singers would come bursting through any minute.

It’s more quiet at the pond, where families can fish minus the boats. The boats may be rented for P100 and are to be found at the lagoon, which is some ways away. One has to get out of the park and walk down to the dock to go boating. The number of passengers is limited to four adults or any number of kids the equivalent of that.

The lagoon is less than four feet deep, shallow enough to erase worries about drowning should the boat turn turtle. Still, the younger boaters are strapped with life vests and it’s reassuring enough that lifesavers are on the lookout at all times. This boating lagoon is still clear and less odoriferous, despite its proximity to the Payatas dumpsite (don’t worry, it’s not in view). The lagoon is also easier on the eyes since trees bound it on almost all sides, and the sun is able to make prismatic reflections on the water.

A weekend jaunt to the La Mesa Ecopark is suggested, although going there on a weekday would actually be more serene.

Take Commonwealth Avenue towards Fairview. You will be passing the following landmarks: UP Diliman, Iglesia ni Cristo Templo Central, Ever Gotesco, Sandiganbayan, Litex, Mercury Drugstore. Turn right at East Fairview Subdivision’s Winston St. then right at Marlboro St. all the way to Pall Mall St. where you should turn left. Turn right at the first corner. You will enter the La Mesa Dam Guard House. There is only one road to take then turn left to the parking lot, in front of which is the gate to the park. The lagoon is further down the path.

For commuters, take a Fairview-bound FX, bus, or jeepney from Philcoa by the entrance to the University of the Philippines. Take note of the abovementioned landmarks and get off at the East Fairview Subdivision. At the gate, you should find plenty of tricycles that can take you to the Eco Park.

For details on how to go trekking at the eco-trail, call 410-9670.

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