Guajataca Tunnel revitalization and its impact on the northwest region

Last week, we shared how a multisectoral partnership achieved the revitalization of the Guajataca Tunnel in Isabela for the benefit of the northwest region. This week, on our Stay Open, Stay Safe Facebook Live, we sat down with members of the participating organizations like Héctor Varela, cofounder of Conservación Costera PR (CoCoPR); Héctor Díaz, president of Museo del Tren de Isabela; and Valerie Mercado, Bottom Up Destination Recovery Initiative (Bottom Up) facilitator to discuss the importance of revitalizing tourist and historical attractions for the economic development of neighboring communities.

The Guajataca Tunnel, prior to being a tourist attraction, belonged to Puerto Rico’s railroad network. It was closely linked to the sugar industry and during the first half of the 20th century, it was a key figure in the island’s infrastructure, making it possible to transport sugar cane, sugar, mail, passengers and general cargo. It transported people from 1906 to 1953. Then, it transported sugar cane until 1957. After completing its functions, the tunnel was the cradle of legends and stories for the citizens of Isabela and Quebradillas. However, it suffered the consequences of abandonment and later the onslaught of Hurricane Maria.

"Our mission is to educate towards community self-management, focused on environmental, historical and cultural conservation as an economic driver, but beyond that, we seek to make each person and community member understand the importance of being involved in one way or another in the solution of their community's problems."

With the arrival of Bottom Up to the region of Aguadilla and Isabela, the integration of multiple sectors was possible. In the development of Bottom Up Destination Plans, which include community meetings where various regional stakeholders are invited to participate, the importance of the Guajataca Tunnel as a tourist asset was highlighted.

Among the entities participating in these meetings was CoCoPR, leader of the tunnel revitalization. “Our mission is to educate towards community self-management, focused on environmental, historical and cultural conservation as an economic driver, but beyond that, we seek to make each person and community member understand the importance of being involved in one way or another in the solution of their community’s problems,” said Varela, who has more than 20 years of experience working from his community in Isabela.

A vital aspect of the revitalization of the Tunnel was the union of diverse sectors. “Many of us who worked on this effort had worked on other community projects before. However, with the arrival of Bottom Up to the Aguadilla and Isabela region we were able to witness the integration of different sectors,” said Victor Diaz.  

The third sector was joined by local businesses, artisans, artists and the municipal governments of Quebradillas and Isabela. This synergy between all the different groups achieved the successful revitalization of the Tunnel, one that promises to be “a point of interest that could provide an economic injection to the region and where many already enjoy beautiful crafts,” according to Valerie Mercado.

What for years was a place of abandonment, today thanks to the union between all the mentioned sectors, has become again a tourist attraction for the region and a spearhead of economic development through the Visitor Economy for the communities of Isabela, Quebradillas and surrounding municipalities.

Last week, we shared how a multisectoral partnership achieved the revitalization of the Guajataca Tunnel in Isabela for the benefit of the northwest region. This week, on our Stay Open, Stay Safe Facebook Live, we sat down with members of the participating organizations like Héctor Varela, cofounder of Conservación Costera PR (CoCoPR); Héctor Díaz, president of Museo del Tren de Isabela; and Valerie Mercado, Bottom Up Destination Recovery Initiative (Bottom Up) facilitator to discuss the importance of revitalizing tourist and historical attractions for the economic development of neighboring communities.

The Guajataca Tunnel, prior to being a tourist attraction, belonged to Puerto Rico’s railroad network. It was closely linked to the sugar industry and during the first half of the 20th century, it was a key figure in the island’s infrastructure, making it possible to transport sugar cane, sugar, mail, passengers and general cargo. It transported people from 1906 to 1953. Then, it transported sugar cane until 1957. After completing its functions, the tunnel was the cradle of legends and stories for the citizens of Isabela and Quebradillas. However, it suffered the consequences of abandonment and later the onslaught of Hurricane Maria.

With the arrival of Bottom Up to the region of Aguadilla and Isabela, the integration of multiple sectors was possible. In the development of Bottom Up Destination Plans, which include community meetings where various regional stakeholders are invited to participate, the importance of the Guajataca Tunnel as a tourist asset was highlighted.

Among the entities participating in these meetings was CoCoPR, leader of the tunnel revitalization. “Our mission is to educate towards community self-management, focused on environmental, historical and cultural conservation as an economic driver, but beyond that, we seek to make each person and community member understand the importance of being involved in one way or another in the solution of their community’s problems,” said Varela, who has more than 20 years of experience working from his community in Isabela.

A vital aspect of the revitalization of the Tunnel was the union of diverse sectors. “Many of us who worked on this effort had worked on other community projects before. However, with the arrival of Bottom Up to the Aguadilla and Isabela region we were able to witness the integration of different sectors,” said Victor Diaz.  

The third sector was joined by local businesses, artisans, artists and the municipal governments of Quebradillas and Isabela. This synergy between all the different groups achieved the successful revitalization of the Tunnel, one that promises to be “a point of interest that could provide an economic injection to the region and where many already enjoy beautiful crafts,” according to Valerie Mercado.

What for years was a place of abandonment, today thanks to the union between all the mentioned sectors, has become again a tourist attraction for the region and a spearhead of economic development through the Visitor Economy for the communities of Isabela, Quebradillas and surrounding municipalities.

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