History of the Asa Wright​ Nature Centre

History of the Asa Wright Nature Centre

The story of the Asa Wright Nature Centre begins with Mrs. Asa Wright.  Asa (pronounced Ow-suh) was born Asa Guðmundsdóttir on April 12, 1892, in Laugardalur, Iceland. As a young woman she travelled to England where she trained as a nurse, specialising in midwifery at Middlesex Hospital and learned English language and etiquette. It was on a return trip to Iceland where she met her future husband, Newcome Wright and it was his health that brought the married couple to Trinidad.  Newcome’s compromised lungs, a result of exposure to poison gas when he fought in the Great War of 1914-18 could not contend with the poor air quality in the UK and in 1946, they arrived in Trinidad.

The Spring Hill Estate is in the Arima Valley roughly in the centre of the Northern Range of Trinidad, at an elevation of some 350m (1,150ft) above sea level. A special attraction on the property is a breeding colony of the nocturnal Oilbird, or Guacharo (Steatornis caripensis) located in the Dunston Cave. The Estate passed through the hands of several owners before being purchased by Asa Wright and her English husband in 1946. They were the last private owners of the estate.

The Wrights continued to operate Spring Hill as a cocoa-coffee-citrus estate, at that time a difficult and not very profitable undertaking. Fortunately, in 1949 William Beebe, an internationally famous natural scientist affiliated with the New York Zoological Society, purchased the Verdant Vale Estate (which he renamed Simla) and St. Patrick’s Estate located down the Arima Valley. Beebe’s presence was a magnet for foreign visitors to the Arima Valley, which created a business opportunity for Asa Wright to begin taking in guests at Spring Hill, especially in the aftermath of her husband’s death in 1955. Many of these were repeat visitors who fell in love with Spring Hill and, in collaboration with likeminded locals, were moved to make arrangements to preserve the place when Asa entered her final years in the mid-1960s.  In 1967 funds were raised to purchase the Spring Hill estate and the Asa Wright Nature Centre was established.  Asa died in 1971 from a heart attack at the age of 78.

In 1975 the New York Zoological Society gave the Asa Wright Nature Centre the Simla Field Research Center, and it has been a Tropical Research facility to this day.

Over the years, the AWNC’s role as a land conservation trust expanded to include forested land holdings in the lower Arima valley and neighbouring Aripo Valley. In 1995, the Government granted the AWNC a 99-year lease of lands within the Northern Range Forest Reserve, in compensation for encroachment by a State-owned quarry on lands of the AWNC.

The history of the AWNC is beautifully recounted in the book, The Old House and The Dream by Joy Rudder.