Hill 394 Forest Reserve

It was past 9:00 am when the group reach the forest reserve in this side of Subic. According to Engineer Ricardo Alcantara one of out local guides in the area. When the Americans were in control of the area.

Mr. Alexander Mesia showed the trail left by the troop of monkeys

         The forest reserve is usually off-limits to the locals, until 1992 when the area was formally turned-over to the government . Very few groups  were permitted  to visit the reservation . In 2011,  they only allowed two to  three  groups to visit the place .

panoramic view of the surrounding mountain and forest areas from hill 394 summit

Subic’s most popular peak takes you 394 meters  or about 1, 293 feet above sea level and offers a spectacular view of the legendary Mount Natib and Subic Bay, in the northwest.  Hill 394  let its beauty speak for itself. This is a popular area for bird watching, mountain hikers  ,  students of biology and botany .

Concrete ammunition bunkers are found all over the forest reserve , apparently they can easily be mistaken as a small hill , but in a close inspection these are storage places for the ammunition of the Americans.

 ammunition depository bunker during the American stay in Subic now these bunkers are abandoned and swiflets  and  Eurasian tree sparrow or maya-maya  make these bunkers as their second home

According  to our guides , these bunkers are camouflage by the thick forest vegetation and grasses .  There are about 400 to 500 such ammunition bunkers  that were scattered around the former military naval base forest reserve and adjacent area.   The  construction zenith of these hill- shaped depot  happened during the Vietnam war in the mid 1960’s  to early 1970’s . These are multimillion dollar project and a closely guarded military secret of the American naval station .   Some of  the bunkers  are now converted into art galleries or restaurants.

The group first had to get the necessary permits from the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority . Here are some of the conditions :

1.) Extreme precaution shall be taken not to cause any disturbance / destruction in the forest , aquatic / marine environment .

2.) Proper waste disposal shall always be observed.

3.) No trails shall be created on forest areas.

4.) Collection of flora and fauna maybe allowed for identification purposes only.

5.) Results of the study can only be used for academic purposes and shall not be published without proper coordination and approval from the office.

forest trail created by the Americans

Normally , the hike going up the trail up to the topmost part will only take between 45 minutes to 1 hour however it took the group almost 2 hours to reach the  hill summit  ( due to initial surveys conducted )

old ficus balete  tree -possibly more than a century -old

The debate among botanist and forest experts would reveal that this is a disturbed lowland forest which means that the forest was already disturbed long time ago from logging (  Americans and Japanese occupation  )  Since it was assumed that the trails were made by the Americans. The topmost portion of the hill was flatten and bulldozed using heavy equipment . Apparently the area was used as a helicopter landing  site during their jungle survival trainings.

summit of hill 394 – notice the lack of natural vegetation and flat terrain

You can see that the area was disturbed and most of the trees are missing .  The area is said to have been used as a forest survival training site intended for jungle survival .  The fallen logs  must have been used by the US military when they were in Subic long time ago.

 group picture

The area that the group visited  , is said to be the extended ancestral domain of the Aeta living in the nearby Zambales area.

Notes:

* The team saw some plastic bottles and brought them down to our van ( we had to dispose of the plastic bottles properly)  We saw at the trail, apparently the plastic bottles  were from the previous hikers who just left them .

* The group is highly compose of credible people from various environmental NGOs and experts coming from DENR, National Museum, and Academe .

* A  preliminary survey of flora and fauna was done  within the trail areas.

* At the end of the 2 hour trek, the group  surveyed more than 100 species of trees, about 2 dozen birds, 1 orchid species, about half a dozen ferns  and half a dozen aroids  ( along the established trek path ).

* The team  saw tree sapling that are germinated ,  this is a natural way of re-forestation . however there are signs that foreign non-endemic trees  examples are Gemelina , Mahogany , weeds, flowering plants that were naturalized  in this part of Subic.

* Feral population of cats and even rats poses a treat to the local endemic wildlife bird and small mammals .