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La Vieja: Visiting Las Quebradas

Avenida Calle 72, Bogotá

Avenida Calle 72 is one of the primary roads in Bogotá, where big corporate offices line a crowded 4-lane avenue. It crosses the city west to east, rising up against los Cerros Orientales, the mountains to the east of the city.

What most people don't know is that beneath all the concrete is a creek, una quebrada.

This quebrada, La Vieja, is just one of 192 quebradas that run from the mountains into the city and down to Río Bogotá. Here, it is encapsulated in concrete drains, resurfacing as black waters in an open ditch somewhere downstream.

Map of Bogotá

Bogotá with the dark green Cerros Orientales to the east. Google Maps. 2017.

I'm walking with Sofía López, facilitator and community organizer in the protection of the quebradas. For a number of years she's worked on projects with Conservation International and other stakeholders to revitalize the area.

looking up Avenida Calle 72 towards the mountains

La Vieja Quebrada is lost when it reaches the city. Sofía points up and down the street,

People don't know it's here.

The truth is La Vieja is one of the lucky ones.

We reach 8,600 feet in elevation. Here, a park begins and the creek is open.

park entrance to La Vieja

This is the exception, not the standard. For the last six or so years La Vieja has been under restoration. This neighborhood has money, Sofía explains. Residents in the towering lofts around the quebrada pay for management and the removal of litter.

clearly marked trail signs

The care shows: the creek is lined with manicured walkways, well-marked interpretive signs, blossoming native wildflowers and friendly older women in joggers.

flowing albeit murky water in La Vieja

Despite the apparent care, the actual water is turbid and milky. We throw a bit of bread, hoping to see fish that don't appear.

At 8,680 feet we find the cause: a pipe draining a white mixture into the water. It smells like bleach. Sofía takes a picture and sends a message to Amigos de la Montaña, a community group that promotes public use of the quebradas and helps promote stewardship among city residents.

source of the contamination

At 8,730 feet we reach a closed gate. From here, the trail continues along the quebrada in the Bosque Oriental de Bogotá, a protected forest reserve. La Vieja has been such a success that as many as 4,000 people take to the creek trail on a Saturday. Unfortunately, so many people, and a lack of sensitization, mean habitat degradation. To protect the ecosystem, officials have closed upstream.

Sofía sighs.

If you want to protect the quebrada, don't close it.

People need the quebradas.

At the gate, the buildings end. The road ends. The concrete trail ends. Looking beyond, you get a sense that you're just at the start.

Is the solution to close the park?

Access to this quebrada is access to Bogotanos' natural heritage, exposure to a sliver of Colombia's rich diversity. What if instead, people were taught how to better care for the quebradas? What if instead, other quebradas were restored, reducing the pressure on this one creek? What if downstream areas were revitalized as well?

We turn around and begin to walk downhill.


For the month of October, I'll be traveling in Colombia and Brasil through an exchange with the Water & Cities Initiative of Conservation International. This post is part of a series of posts regarding conservation, water and urban issues in Mexico City, Bogotá and Rio de Janeiro.

All photos by Maria Doerr 2017 unless otherwise marked.

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