OREGON – Heidi Scott returned to Central Oregon in June after spending five months in Puerto Rico helping the El Yunque National Forest rebuild infrastructure following the devastation of Hurricane Marie. Scott, who is the Lands & Recreation Special Use administrator for Ochoco National Forest, served as the El Yunque’s first recreation planner, helping to develop a forest recreation and interpretation plan and strengthening connections to surrounding communities.
Hurricane Maria, which formed in September last year, is regarded as the worst natural disaster on record to affect Puerto Rico. The Category 4 hurricane toppled trees, bridges and structures across the National Forest, and left several million Puerto Ricans without power, water or cell service.
When she first arrived on the island in January, there were around 500 contractors and an incident management team working to clear debris from roads and trails just to allow workers back into the National Forest. Most workers were housed in a hotel on the beach with a generator for electricity and no running water. The local power grid did not come back up until May.
During her detail, Scott helped to reestablish recreation infrastructure, lay plans for new recreation opportunities and assisted the Forest in finalizing a new Forest Plan. One example of the kind of work she did is a project that helped to reestablish visitor services. The hurricane rendered the existing visitor’s center, El Portal Rainforest Center, uninhabitable and under construction for the next couple years. Scott helped the Forest revitalize an old ranger station into a new visitor’s center and install a series of kiosks, called “portalitos,” in surrounding communities to bring the visitor’s center out to them.
“One of the best parts of the detail was experiencing a National Forest so different from the other forests in North America,” Scott said. Keeping an eye out for the West Indian Mongoose in the field was a standard precaution (because they can carry rabies) and it was not uncommon to encounter the Puerto Rican Boa in the forest. She also enjoyed experiencing life in a territory of the United States and observing the different government agencies and how they operate. She plans to return for a visit sometime in the next 10 years to see the results of all the hard work accomplished this spring.