People have been tapping pine trees for generations to collect resin. Locals in one Spanish province, however, feel that this age-old practice has the potential to save rural villages while simultaneously benefiting the environment.

A significantly different environment develops in the provinces of Segovia, Vila, and Valladolid. A thick, 400,000-hectare protected forest of fragrant resin pines reaches up into the hilly folds between the Tierra de Pinares and Sierra de Gredos mountain ranges. This forested area, shielded from the intense Spanish sun and laced with pathways, is a popular hiking destination for residents and visitors alike. If you go at the correct time of year, you could notice workers squatted next to the tree trunks, carrying on a centuries-old tradition of gathering the pine’s “liquid gold.” Various cultures have employed pine resin for thousands of years. It was used to waterproof ships, cure burns, and ignite torches in Spain and much of the Mediterranean, among other things.

In the mid-nineteenth century, technology and industry helped transform the thick, viable, milky sap into plastics, varnishes, glues, tires, rubber, turpentine, and even food additives. Workers across the region began hacking into the bark of resin pine trees to obtain the rich sap. Blanca Rodríguez-Chaves, the vice dean of the faculty of law at the Autonomous University of Madrid and an expert in environmental policies, believes that by recruiting more young people to live and work in these rural communities, the region’s ecotourism will grow, with more enterprises giving guided forest hikes and local museums holding resin workshops.