Erica Hogan (Communications major, Class of 2000) was huddled in a soggy tent in the Costa Rican rainforest feeling alone and wondering what she had done with her life. She and her husband Matt (Business and Recreation & Outdoor Education double major, Class of 2002) had left their comfortable life in the Gunnison Valley and moved to Central America with the dream of building the world’s first planned residential community made out of tree houses.
They didn’t speak Spanish, they didn’t know anyone in Costa Rica, and they had leveraged everything they owned to purchase 62 acres of rainforest.
“I had been living in a tent for months and all I could do was crank out press releases on my little laptop that no-one ever read,” says Hogan, who was trying to drum up media attention for their venture before they had constructed their first house. “We were following our dream, but it wasn’t easy.”
7 years later, Erica and Matt are the owners and visionaries behind Finca Bellavista, a growing community of homes built in the trees surrounded by 600 acres of rainforest that they have purchased and preserved. Their community has been featured in films, travel magazines and commercials. Their dream has survived an economic downturn and countless logistical setbacks.
“I have constantly fallen back on the unique education I received at Western,” Erica Hogan says. “Fate kept throwing curveballs our way, but Matt and I learned to be independent thinkers at Western. Our liberal arts education, combined with our environmental studies, business and communication skills are constantly in demand as we build our business.”
Now the Hogans have an eye on the future. “We want to grow our community and add more structures,” Erica Hogan says, “and our media services business is growing too.
“Media services” is a television and film industry term for providing a setting for commercial television and film productions. These days, Erica finds herself using the skills she learned in her Communications classes fielding inquiries from production companies who want to film commercials at Finca Bellavista. She also has had success pitching stories to travel writers and reporters.
The Hogans found their connections from college essential to building their business in a foreign land. Darla DeRuiter, a former Western Recreation and Environmental Studies Professor, provided valuable feedback on the Finca Bellavista project. Coincidentally, Matt and Erica met in an Ecosystems Management class, taught by DeRuiter.
The Hogans have hosted Western students in Costa Rica too, providing the unique opportunity for experiential learning. 15 Western students visited and took Spanish lessons with a local teacher, studied native flora with a leading Costa Rican botanist, and helped gather information on the country’s wild cat population.
The Hogans utilize the Western connections they've made over the years, and have leaned on the experience and expertise of Dr. Jan Schipper, a 1995 graduate of Western, who is one of the world’s leading rainforest conservation biologists. Schipper is also the person who first introduced Matt to Western and Costa Rica.
With the Western Nation deeply involved in the creation of Finca Bellavista, possibilities for the future are exciting. The Hogans shared that there could be opportunities for other departments from Western to study there including: biology, geology, environmental studies, Spanish, and archaeology.
In a letter Erica wrote to her future fellow alumni she says, “being in college and making decisions that will affect your future paths in life can be an exciting, frustrating and sometimes overwhelming process. While one small decision can seem insignificant, the butterfly effect of each thing you choose for yourself has a string of long-term effects.”
“Sometimes you don’t choose the path, the path chooses you.”
To learn more about Finca Bellavista, visit fincabellavista.com.