Keeping the Cordilleras wild

At five years old, JP Alipio - founder of the Cordillera Conservation Trust and Cordillera Mountain Ultra - went on his first hike. He would later dedicate his life and work to wild spaces. 

The La Trinidad native spent most of his formative years in the Cordillera, exploring nature. Growing up, he played by the river behind his house and the farms surrounding it. In high school, Alipio was a boy scout. Their activities included camping out in immersing themselves in the local environment and camping in the surrounding mountains. Later, in college, he was a member of the UP Baguio Mountaineers - a campus-based organization aiming to spread environmental consciousness through their climbs.

“From there the world of mountains just opened up,” shares Alipio. 


Safeguarding home

 Image Courtesy of JP Alipio


On one of his many hikes, the mountaineer retraced the ancient trails of the Cordillera with his brother Francis Alipio and friend Jen Godio. 

“From Itogon all the way to Ilocos Sur passing through Nueva Vizcaya, Ifugao, Mountain Province, and Abra before descending through Tirad Pass,” explains Alipio. “That expedition took 38 days and the product of which was a snapshot of the environment and culture of the entire region.”

Hoping to safekeep all they witnessed on the trip, they created the Cordillera Conservation Trust (CCT), an organization dedicated to the preservation of the culture and ecosystems of the area. More specifically, they provide sustainable solutions to environmental and social issues in the Cordillera Region, which is one of the country’s major watersheds, a space for biodiversity, and home to various indigenous groups.

“That is really what guides our work,” shares Alipio. “Creating opportunities for the wild spaces and the communities that live within it to exist in harmony while still accessing the modern world and economy.”

Image Courtesy of JP Alipio


To fulfill this mission, CCT has organized seedling productions programs like Roots and Shoots, biking events like Cordillera Challenge Mountain Bike Epic, and most popularly, trail runs like the Cordillera Mountain Ultra (CMU).


Trailblazing the wild space economy

Image Courtesy of JP Alipio


The Cordillera Mountain Ultra (CMU) is a 50k trail race in a barangay in Benguet called Dalupirip. More than a marathon, it was created to address the need for better access to the wild space economy. 

“This isn't just a race but an entire program that includes training the local communities how to put up their own businesses,” says Alipio.

The event offers a way for locals to profit from their natural environment without having to cut down trees, clear land, or use non-renewable resources. Since it attracts local and international travelers, the communities can earn from transportation, food, and homestays. 

At the end of it, the event and its traction create, as Alipio puts it, “wild tourist economies in remote communities [that] can be successful and sustain themselves.” 

With the combined efforts of the CMU and the CCT, the organizations have been able to increase some household incomes up to 500%. 


Moving on from the pandemic

The initiatives of CMU and CCT have stalled due to the pandemic, and understandably so. With travel restrictions in place, tourism has taken a big loss in the past year. Much of Alipio’s work has been on pause since March 2020. 

“For now, like nature, we hibernate and wait patiently for our time to shine again,” assures the mountaineer.

Although the tourism sector has taken a backseat, Alipio is still working on projects for CCT. They’re currently collaborating with Knitting Expedition on a social enterprise that aims to help Rice Terrace farmers maintain their fields through private investment. Also, their rekindling program in the mountains of La Trinidad, Benguet is still ongoing in partnership with Sekaya - a plant-based wellness brand.

At its core, all of CCT’s projects safeguard culture and environment - the two things Alipio works passionately to preserve. And from replanting initiatives and conscious tourism, Apilio forwards an uncommon but essential take on development. Instead of taking from the land and its people, he keeps the mountain wild. 

by Danielle Ramos

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