A bird’s-eye view of La Casona, Costa Rican landmark

Story by Ryan Schuessler
Drone video by Justin Stewart

SANTA ROSA NATIONAL PARK, Costa Rica – In what could be first for Costa Rica, Missouri School of Journalism students used a drone to capture aerial footage of one of the nation’s most important historic landmarks.

The site, a former colonial ranch house known as La Casona, once anchored Hacienda Santa Rosa, a historic cattle ranch founded in 1663 in the northwestern lowlands of the Central American country. La Casona is the scene of several key battles that figured in Costa Rican independence, including in 1856, 1919 and 1955.

In the early 1970s, the hacienda became the anchor for Santa Rosa National Park. La Casona, meaning “big house,” now serves as a museum and cultural center for the Areá de Conservación Guanacaste, or Guanacaste Conservation Area.

In the 1980s, the park became the nucleus of an ambitious conservation effort in which the ranchland has, through natural regeneration, begun to restore itself into something approaching the native dry tropical forest of the area that had largely been cut down or burned. The conservation area has won recognition from the United Nations as a World Heritage Site.

A fire set by arsonists destroyed much of La Casona in 2001, but Costa Rican schoolchildren mounted a fund-raising campaign to have it rebuilt.

“The importance of La Casona and Santa Rosa cannot be underestimated,” said Bill Allen, an assistant professor of science journalism and leader of the study abroad course that brought the students to Santa Rosa. “It is sacrosanct as a landmark symbolizing the Costa Rican fight for independence and peace. It’s also a source of pride for Costa Ricans who value their role in protecting and restoring nature.”

Allen has covered the Guanacaste region for three decades. He is author of the book, “Green Phoenix: Restoring the Tropical Forests of Guanacaste, Costa Rica.”

The students used a Phantom-2 drone provided by the MU Science and Agricultural Journalism Program of the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. The drone was piloted by student Justin Stewart and launched by Paige Blankenbuehler, both master’s students at the Journalism School.

Attached to the drone was a GoPro Dual three-dimensional video camera system provided by the MU3D project. The project is a Mizzou Advantage program that explores the possibilities of 3D imaging for journalism. The MU3D project is a collaboration of CAFNR, the Journalism School, and the Architectural Studies and Computer Science departments.

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