Foundation for PR to work with USDA to promote Naguabo as a destination
Foundation for Puerto Rico (FPR) announced the development of the Destino 191: El Yunque del Caribe project, an initiative co-designed with community leaders which seek to develop and implement an innovative plan to revitalize and promote Route 191 in Cubuy, Naguabo as a “vibrant destination” that provides a second entrance to El Yunque National Forest.
“El Yunque region include the municipalities of Canóvanas, Río Grande, Luquillo, Fajardo, Ceiba, Naguabo, Las Piedras, Juncos and Humacao. However, historically, this important landmark has been marketed from the entrance in Río Grande,” said Alma Frontera, Foundation for Puerto Rico’s vice president of operations and programs.
“With Destino 191, we seek to develop Route 191 as the second official entrance to El Yunque, one that, due to several natural disasters including Hurricane María, was left in precarious conditions,” she said. “With its revitalization, we hope to ignite an engine of economic development for the community.”
The creation of this new program follows a collaborative alliance between the nonprofit and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development, which secured $250,000 in funding under the Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge (RPIC) to aid in the planning and development of destinations that help improve the social, cultural, and economic structures of rural communities.
“Under the leadership of President Biden, Vice President Harris and Secretary Vilsack, USDA is investing in ways to create quality places that attract people and jobs to our nation’s smaller municipalities and communities”, indicated Xochitl Torres-Small, USDA’s undersecretary for Rural Development.
“As we continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact, USDA is focusing resources and leveraging partnerships to improve the quality of life of people in rural communities who need it most. Economic and community development strategies, such as destination development, are critical to help rural residents rebuild better, stronger and more equitable than ever before,” Torres-Small.
Meanwhile, Luis R. García, Acting State Director for USDA Rural Development in Puerto Rico, said “the agency is committed to community development and will serve as a facilitating agent in the project.”
An integral part of Destino 191 is the collaboration with the community in the development and implementation of the revitalization plans for the area. This collaboration began in 2020, when the “Bottom Up Destination Recovery Initiative” team spent six months with the community to identify areas of opportunity in the region as part of the development of a destination plan.
Together with community leaders, Route 191 was identified as an asset with great economic potential.
“This road that begins here in Naguabo is the place where people can come to enjoy and invest, but not from the model that displaces the local, but from the model that makes the local part of the project,” said Mariny Vázquez-Maldonado, leader of the Movimiento Naguabo Somos Todos.
“When Foundation for Puerto Rico came and asked us what to develop in this area, the concept was there: Destino 191. We want to let Puerto Rico and the world know that we have an offer we need to communicate so that others can enjoy and help promote the area, thus improving the quality of life and economic development of the Cubuy area”, she said.
The region of El Yunque serves as an important economic engine, representing 20% of visitor activity around the island, and receiving about 1.2 million visitors annually (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic).
Naguabo is a rural community facing diverse challenges, with a population of 26,075, in which 40.7% live below poverty line and a per capita income of $9,283.
As part of Destino 191, Foundation for Puerto Rico will provide technical assistance and training to co-design a plan with viable strategies that capitalize on existing assets and local community capacity, events and revitalization efforts that contribute to the social and economic well-being of the region.
Specifically, this multi-sector project will engage residents, small and medium-sized business owners, community organizations, state government agencies, including the Department of Natural Resources, the municipality, and federal agencies, for the development of Route 191 (“Destino 191”). The program’s implementation period will extend for 24 months, ending on September 30, 2023.
“Cubuy has tremendous potential to develop community-led tourism experiences through business innovation with the senior population, the co-management of the Río Sabana Recreation Area and the revitalization of the spaces along the Route 191 in Naguabo, which we want to promote as ‘Destino 191: El Yunque del Caribe’, said Vázquez-Maldonado.
We hope to continue working for the sustainable development of our community of Cubuy with the collaboration of entities such as the USDA’s Rural Development Office, Foundation for Puerto Rico and the RPIC project, among other efforts and participants,” she said.