At the end of 2020, Foundation for Puerto Rico worked with several collaborators from various sectors to revitalize the Guajataca Tunnel, contributing a donation of close to $11,000 towards this project thanks to a funding grant from our partners at the EDA. Today, eight months later, the tourist attraction has become an engine of economic development for the region. As part of our series of conversations through Facebook Live, we spoke with Bernice Baker, facilitator of the Bottom Up Destination Recovery Initiative; Héctor Varela, co-founder of Conservación Costera (CoCoPR); and Sonia Pérez, an entrepreneur that established her jewelry business in the Tunnel, to talk about the impact of the project and how it has helped spark a flourishing entrepreneurial ecosystem in the area.
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 passengers from 1906 to 1953, and sugar cane until 1957. After completing its functions, the tunnel was the cradle of legends and nostalgic stories for the citizens of Isabela and Quebradillas. However, with time the site was abandoned, and it suffered further decay by the onslaught of Hurricane Maria.
Today, thanks to a collaborative effort between nonprofit organizations, municipal governments, and the community, the Guajataca Tunnel is once again a tourist attraction, and the influx of visitors has led to the creation of 27 new businesses that have established their operations in the tunnel and a wait list of 300 other businesses who’ve applied for municipal patents that will allow them to establish themselves in the area. “The entrepreneurial movement has been overwhelming, so much that we are working on a second phase of the revitalization in order to create further spaces, particularly a Gastro Park, where all food business will be located”, expressed Bernice Baker.
For Sonia Pérez, a retired teacher who created a jewelry design business, “the tunnel opened during the pandemic and many local artisans where scared about the possibility of coming and selling their art here. But I took the risk, and I have no regrets. That first day here was incredible, great sales, people were so supportive, and the place was packed. That’s when I knew this was the best decision, and since October 29, 2020 I am here. I love the place and how many people from all over the island come to visit”.
What for years was considered a forgotten relic of the past, today has become a popular tourist attraction for the region and a spearhead of economic development for the communities of Isabela, Quebradillas and surrounding municipalities.
The Guajataca Tunnel is just one example of the great things that can be achieved when different sectors come together and work towards a greater good. In the historical moment that Puerto Rico is going through, the multisectoral collaboration is a key component to manage efforts similar to this around the island. FPR has a list of 15 additional asset revitalization projects looking for special donors to provide their support. Will you consider a donation today to replicate this success story across Puerto Rico? Donate today!