Juana Diaz Ecotourism Park on the Cards

Members of the El Baldio community in Juana Diaz, situated about 20 minutes from Ponce in the Porta Caribe region of Puerto Rico, have put forward a proposal for the creation of an eco-tourism park and natural reserve in Juana Diaz’s Bosque Rocoso (Rocky Forest) and Cerro Cuevas (Caves Hill).

The 60 million year old cave system, situated adjacent to the El Baldio community, features a number of natural rock sculptures. Among these natural rock sculptures are some which resemble the Virgin Mary, a tortoise, an iguana, a bishop and the Three Wise Men. In an effort to preserve these natural wonders for future generations, and recognizing the potential for ecotourism, the community formed the Comité Renacer (Rebirth Committee). This committee has drawn up a proposal for the creation of the Caves Hill Rocky Forest Reserve and is working with local, state and federal public and private sectors to make the proposal a reality.

The proposal calls for the preservation of almost 73 acres of land, which boasts abundant flora and fauna, including the Puerto Rican boa and a number of rare species of bats and butterflies. The project includes the construction of walking paths that will blend in with the natural contours of the reserve and will feature ten viewing platforms at places of particular interest. The existing communal center will be renovated to serve as a visitor’s center, with plans to build a larger center incorporating an auditorium, gift shop and restaurant, as well as an exhibition hall.

Future plans include extending the pathway to the top of the hill where an observation tower will offer visitors panoramic views of the cities of Villalba and Juana Diaz, as well as the south coastline of the Caribbean, Guayama and Isla Caja de Muerto (Coffin Island). In addition to the observation tower, the Comité Renacer proposes to establish an orchard or vegetable garden, a butterfly farm and a camping area. Tentative plans have been put forward to eventually connect the top of the hill with Lake Toa Vaca by means of cable cars.

In keeping with the principles of ecotourism, students from the School of Architecture of the University of Puerto Rico will be designing the environmentally friendly, solar powered project, incorporating numerous innovative energy saving ideas. The Comité Renacer is negotiating with the Puerto Rico Tourism Company to put into place a transport system to carry visitors from the popular historic Juana Diaz Public Plaza to the Caves Hill Rocky Forest Reserve.

The forward-thinking members of the El Baldio community believe that the Caves Hill Rocky Forest Reserve project represents an opportunity for the socioeconomic development of their community, thereby contributing to the personal growth of individual residents. The project will also ensure the conservation of one of Puerto Rico’s fascinating natural resources.