El Yunque National Forest is one of Puerto Rico’s key tourist attractions. Annually it attracts 600,000 visitors from all over the world. As the only rainforest managed by the U.S. National Forest Service it attracts visitors and scientists for the diversity of flora and fauna in its nearly 30,000 acres.
In the aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and María, the U.S. Forest Service was forced to shut down access to El Yunque. Hundreds of trees were uprooted, the Visitor Center was destroyed, and roads and winding trails were swept away by landslides. Numerous businesses that had arisen around the rainforest park were in danger of disappearing.
Vitrina Solidaria, a nonprofit organization, requested a grant for $86,500 from Unidos por Puerto Rico to help businesses in the area that were part of their business accelerator program survive and improve their resiliency. Vitrina Solidaria selected 15 businesses for grants of $1,000 each and provided other businesses in the Palmer area with technical support. In total, 35 businesses in the area received Vitrina Solidaria’s support.
As the Forest Service reopened some parts of the rainforest, Vitrina Solidaria hosted El Parrandón del Yunque (El Yunqué’s Big Party) in December of 2018, more than a year after hurricane María struck. “We saw El Parrandón as a strategy to market the area and reactivate the economy,” said RaquelSkerret, executive director of Vitrina Solidaria. The event was part of the original grant request made to Unidos por Puerto Rico.
The Parrandón turned into a big block party with attractions, music and food and other amenities offered by local entities and Palmer businesses. “The idea was to use as many local resources as possible to promote their recovery and share in the benefits of an economy- based on solidarity,” added Raquel.
The nonprofit organization had been working with businesses in the area since 2013. Raquel explained they entered in 2016 into a collaborative agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to run El Yunque Emprende (EYE), which focused on helping micro and small businesses in the nine municipalities that are part of the rainforest. A key objective of the U.S. Forest’s Service management plan for the rainforest is to foster economic development by leveraging the rainforest as a tourist and ecological attraction.
As life flourishes once again in El Yunque, Raquel said Vitrina Solidaria is working hard to make sure that the businesses that have been part of the economic initiative based on solidarity surrounding the forest will once again thrive.