El Yunque, the Puerto Rico rainforest which is the only tropical rainforest in the United States, was badly damaged by Hurricane Maria. Some 20% of the trees were destroyed, landslides made roads and trails too dangerous for the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit the forest each year, and there were concerns about the endangered species living there — including 23 species of trees found nowhere else in the world.
According to the official USDA Forest Service website, several areas in El Yunque are currently accessible for tourists:
- La Coca Falls and parking areas
- Puente Roto day use site
- Angelito trailhead and a portion of the trail
- PR191 to La Coca Falls
FEMA is working to protect El Yunque during restoration of power and roads.
Tourism is certainly the center of El Yunque’s economic importance to the territory. However, it is not the only connection.
The non-profit organization Vitrina Solidaria is working with the Forest Service’s El Yunque National Forest team on a project known as “El Yunque Emprende.” The program is intended to promote social and sustainable entrepreneurship around the forest. Businesses and residents of the nine municipalities that border the forest are invited to informational meetings on business, finance, marketing, insurance and risk management.
The affected municipalities include Canóvanas, Río Grande, Luquillo, Fajardo, Ceiba, Naguabo, Humacao, Las Piedras and Juncos.
As recovery efforts continue, scientists continue to take advantage of the rare opportunity to study the natural growth of a rainforest. At the same time, volunteers are being encouraged to come to Puerto Rico to help replanting in the forest. The Forest Service coordinates volunteer work at El Yunque, but there are also a number of organizations arranging volunteer opportunities for tourists.