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Reservation system still in place in El Yunque


By John McPhaul

jpmcphaul@gmail.com


Even though the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and local public health guidelines have changed, the reservation system for visiting El Yunque National Forest will continue, the U.S. Forest Service announced over the weekend.


“Traditionally, El Yunque has peak visitation in the summer, especially in July. The Forest Service will continue the advanced recreation system in Recreation.gov to manage forest capacity in the main recreation area along Road 191,” the Forest Service said in a press release. “Managing crowds in the Forest is further challenged by the pandemic. Other public lands across the nation are also experiencing record visitation while guidelines recommend reduced capacity to minimize crowding.”


The reservation system will help manage capacity for visitor safety and as ongoing construction in the Forest further reduces parking capacity, the Forest Service said.


For decades, El Yunque has managed visitor capacity by limiting the number of vehicles allowed inside the Forest. Once parking areas were full, the main entrance gate near La Coca Falls was closed.


This resulted in long lines of traffic and people being turned away. Additionally, illegally parked vehicles blocking the road created hazardous situations where emergency vehicles could not pass to provide assistance.


In July 2020, the Forest Service implemented a reservation system during the pandemic to manage visitor capacity while following health and safety guidelines for visitors and employees.


El Yunque, at that time, was the only attraction open in Puerto Rico, and the Forest was able to provide some access to outdoor recreational experiences and opportunities to connect with nature.


“Additionally, the Forest Service continues hurricane recovery projects, which limits parking and capacity,” the Forest Service said. “While many trails and recreation sites are open, several areas are closed for repairs. The Big Tree and La Mina trails, which typically receive the highest numbers of visitors, remained closed due to heavy hurricane damage. The closure has impacted El Yunque’s ability to receive normal visitation as the trails’ closure significantly reduces visitor capacity.”


El Portal Visitor Center repairs are progressing meanwhile, and will be completed in December.


The Forest Service will also facilitate an extensive Forest-wide road repair project starting this fall. The project will reduce parking availability and may require temporary road closures. Construction may require staging of equipment or material in parking areas, which further reduces capacity.


The main recreation area currently has a 300-vehicle capacity, allowing for some 1,000 people to have access to this area.


El Yunque’s steep topography, narrow and winding roads, and very limited flat areas limits parking space.


On-line reservations through Recreation.gov are required for entering the main recreation area along Road 191. They can be booked 30 days in advance. Additional reservations are available 24 hours in advance to help accommodate last-minute visits. These reservations fill up quickly.


Reservations are per vehicle and are $2 per ticket. Visitors with reservations should arrive between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.


There are other dispersed recreation areas in the Forest available without reservations. These areas include the Puente Roto and Angelito Trails along Road 988 and pedestrian access along Road 191 south in Naguabo to the Río Sabana recreation area.


Access to the scenic El Verde area along Road 186, and Road 9966, is also available, but road conditions in some areas are poor.


Visitors are reminded to plan ahead, check weather conditions, practice responsible recreation and remove trash from the Forest.


If visitors arrive in El Yunque without a reservation and other Forest recreation areas are too crowded, there are many other outdoor activities available in the region. These include access to nearby rivers and streams, exploring beaches and coastal areas, watersports, horseback riding and ziplines, the Forest Service said.


More information on El Yunque reservations, maps and recreation areas and guidelines can be


found on the Forest website: www.fs.usda.gov/elyunque, or on Facebook and Twitter @ElYunqueNF and on Recreation.gov. Information on other area attractions in the region can be found at www.voyturisteando.com or www.discoverpuertorico.com.

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