Lawmakers ask tourism czar to help normalize access to El Yunque
By John McPhaul
Reps. Jesús Manuel Ortiz González, Héctor Ferrer Santiago and José Rivera Madera have requested by letter the intervention of Tourism Co. Executive Director Carlos Mercado Santiago with the U.S. Forestry Service so that visits to El Yunque National Forest, which have been restricted since 2020 because of the COVID pandemic, are normalized.
“In a recent visit to the Municipality of Río Grande, we received input and concern regarding the control of visitors in the [El Yunque National Forest] zone,” Ortiz González said. “This decrease in visitors has had a negative impact on the economy of countless families that depend on the flow of visitors that it receives daily. It is a problem that not only affects tourists, but also does not allow us Puerto Ricans to have access to one of the island’s most important natural heritage sites. All other activities have already been normalized and we have returned to normal. It is time for all restrictions in El Yunque to be eliminated, as has been done in all jurisdictions of the United States and the world.”
People interested in attending the preeminent rain forest in the Caribbean must reserve and pay in advance through a website that limits daily access to 300 cars per day.
Given those figures, Ferrer Santiago added that “El Yunque, in a regular year, without restrictions, receives around 600,000 visitors annually.”
“As a consequence of the pandemic, in July 2020, the federal government limited the access of visitors, forcing them to reserve their visit online in advance,” the at-large legislator said. “We are concerned that, without a doubt, this action limits the access that we as Puerto Ricans should have to our natural resources. In addition to the fact that tourists who arrive on the island and who are unaware of this matter can’t visit it and get a bad impression of the island due to a decision promoted by the federal government.”
Rivera Madera, who chairs the House Tourism Committee, added that “The Tourism Company is in charge of promoting the tourist attractions of the island; for this reason we are asking the director of Tourism to intervene with the federal government and make the access of visitors to El Yunque Forest more flexible and normal, so that all Puerto Ricans have access to our natural resources.”
The lawmakers made themselves available to collaborate with the Tourism Co.’s efforts on the issue.