For those who have supported the Solidarity Fund, it would be enough to see the faces of the people walking the self-guided trails to be satisfied with the results of your donations. Connecting with nature produces an almost immediate change in those of us who relate directly to it. After all, natural areas — besides purifying air, land, and water — also purify our mental and physical well-being. With this in mind, the obligation to close access to the spaces we protect because of quarantine came with the decision to create a network of self-guided trails where visitors could connect with nature freely and safely. This idea was conceived some time back, but found the right moment to be implemented during the pandemic.
Because of your support for the Fund and the work of a team that is passionate about hiking, 15 areas have already been evaluated, 9 of which have been included in the network of self-guided trails. For each trail, our team has developed a plan detailing the location of all signage, while measures have been implemented for the safety of visitors and employees alike. We created a guide on trail design, construction, and maintenance along with a training program. This strategy ensures that ecological processes are maintained and reduces time and costs. To date, two out of four regions have been trained. We have also created a volunteer profile so that people from the surrounding communities can actively participate in trail maintenance, fostering a sense of responsibility and ownership.
In 2020, early childhood education was lagging severely as a result of the pandemic. This makes our partnership with the National Recreation Foundation (NRF) and Fundación Colibrí for the expansion of the After School: Immersion in Nature Program even more meaningful. For this project, NRF contributed $140,000 and Fundación Colibrí contributed $50,000. With these funds, we will be contributing to the expansion of the project. The program started in 2019 with funds granted by the NRF. Early on, the program had the participation of six Montessori schools from Instituto Nueva Escuela (INE) where four of them managed to establish school gardens and two created butterfly gardens.
This year, we continued our collaboration with INE for the next phase of this project called "Sembrando Regresamos" where we hope to convert 20 schools into 'Model Schools', incorporating in their grounds and curriculum diverse projects such as: nurseries, school gardens, botanical gardens, butterfly gardens, materials for home gardens, domes for outdoor education, among others.
We would like to thank NRF and Fundación Colibrí for their trust in Para la Naturaleza and the opportunity they give us to contribute to the development of children through initiatives that impact their daily lives.
Preserving nature sometimes means defending the inherent rights of its ecosystems and species. Now, thanks to the Open Society Foundation (OSF), which awarded Para la Naturaleza a $50,000 grant to support legal advocacy initiatives with diverse issues affecting areas of high ecological value and ecosystem services in Puerto Rico. These initiatives include the new land use regulations, focused on defending the correct application of the 2015 Puerto Rico Land Use Plan, as well as other land-use plans that control unsustainable uses in rural areas. One of the ways we have done this is by supporting court challenges by appearing as Amicus Curae to advise the Courts with expert opinions on the issues presented.
Our 2020 grants development team is showing outstanding results in 2021. In early April, we received word that the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded us $290,750 for our Flora Borinqueniana proposal, a traveling exhibition on the history, science, and politics of botanical illustrations of Puerto Rican flora. This was the only proposal from Puerto Rico that received funding. The exhibition aims to expose the public to the fascinating stories behind elements of the flora and the local history that are familiar to many nowadays but are not necessarily considered interrelated.
Flora Borinqueniana takes the visitor through a chronological journey, from the late eighteenth century to the first decades of the twentieth century, with a final space linking history with present-day flora. The entire team involved in this project is very grateful to the National Endowment for the Humanities for its contribution to the preservation of Puerto Rican cultural heritage.
Finally, we would like to provide you with more details about the news we received on April 26th. We learned that our application, submitted to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) of the NRCS, in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office, had been selected for federal funding. This is a highly competitive program at the national level, the Río Grande de Arecibo Restoration Project was the only proposal approved for Puerto Rico. With a total allocation of $2,541,985, the project will implement conservation actions at the regional landscape level, promoting ecosystem functionality.
The project will be implemented over a five year period. During this time, we will be working to plant 50,000 native trees in private and agricultural habitats, including riparian and wetland habitats, in the area of the Río Grande in Arecibo. In addition, it includes conservation efforts for six listed species, including the coquí llanero and the Puerto Rican crested toad. It also contemplates the establishment of agroforestry systems and transitional biological corridors to enhance recovery efforts. Also, included in its proposal is the participation of local communities and farmers in habitat recovery and monitoring efforts.
In June, Para la Naturaleza published its most recent annual report, "Five Decades Preserving the Future" to inform on the accomplishments of 2020. If you would like to receive a physical copy, you may write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, you can access the digital version in the following section, Recommended Reading.