GENERAL SANTOS CITY – Tourism stakeholders will unveil a new adventure experience with the reopening to tourists early next month of the famed crater-lake Holon in Tboli town, South Cotabato.
Rodel Hilado, senior tourism operations officer of Tboli, said Friday the preparations are underway for the return trek to the mountain lake on Jan. 4, nearly a year after it closed down due to its annual rehabilitation and the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.
He said they will introduce new pitstops, activities and experiences during the activity as part of the enhanced development plan of the site, which one of the top ecotourism destinations in Region 12 (Soccsksargen).
These include food stops and scenic spots in the villages and communities traversed by the upgraded access road leading to the area, he said.
“Trekkers will mainly be seeing a rejuvenated and rehabilitated lake environment so that would be a refreshing experience for them,” he told PNA in a phone interview.
The municipal government of Tboli, through Mayor Dibu Tuan, shut down the entire Lake Holon to tourists from Jan. 6 to March 14 to pave the way for its rehabilitation and “allow its ecosystem to recuperate.”
But it was eventually extended due to the restrictions and control measures following the onset of Covid-19.
The annual closure of the lake was provided for in Municipal Ordinance No. 33, series of 2016, that had set the conservation and protection activities for the area’s tourism sites.
Section 20 provides for the “closing or cordoning off of certain areas of the cave, forest, lakes, and others to visitors at certain times of the year or for several years to allow the ecosystem to breathe or revert to its natural state”.
During the lake’s closure, Hilado said they conducted various rehabilitation activities, among them the upgrading of existing facilities at the campsite area, the natural view deck and other portions of the site.
He said they put up a comfort room specially designed for the area through a PHP6 million support fund from the provincial government of South Cotabato.
Personnel from the Tboli Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office conducted cleanup activities and upgraded the water level markers at the lake, he said.
Hilado said they also continued the biodiversity assessment and research, including water potability and the thriving medicinal plants within Lake Holon’s ecosystem, in partnership with top universities in the country.
He said experts from the University of Santo Tomas, University of the Philippines, Sultan Kudarat State University, Mindanao State University and the Notre Dame of Marbel University visited the site during the period.
For the lake’s upcoming reopening trek, the official said they will allow at least 75 climbers and an additional 25 as buffer to join the activity.
He said such number, which represents 50 percent of the site’s projected capacity of 200 people, was based on the allowed visitors set by the national Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases for tourist destinations under the modified general community quarantine.
Hilado said all trekkers are required to strictly comply with the minimum health protocols, among them the observance of safe physical distancing and the wearing of face mask and face shield as necessary.
“We will monitor the compliance of these measures so we can continue to cater visitors under the new normal,” he said.
The lake’s closure was the sixth implemented by the municipal government and the longest since it was first shut down for nine months in 2014.
Last year, the local government also declared the lake off-limits to trekking and other tourism-related activities for two months. It was closed for 55 days in 2016, 63 days in 2017 and 70 days in 2018.
Dubbed the “Crown Jewel of South Cotabato,” Lake Holon (formerly Maughan) is nestled at Mt. Melebingoy (Mt. Parker), which is listed as an active volcano.
The lake was declared as the cleanest inland body of water in the entire country in 2003 and 2004 and recognized as among the world’s “Top 100 Sustainable Destinations” in 2016 and 2017. (PNA)