Emerging Trail Leader Scholarship Recipient


Gabriel Pacheco Santa

Caguas, Puerto Rico, United States

I am an environmental interpreter with the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico, a non-for-profit private organization that has protected lands of high ecological value all over Puerto Rico's archipelago for the last 50 years. Day in and day out, we help communities reforest their neighborhoods, learn and apply ecological science through citizen science efforts, and immerse themselves in nature via interpretive tours anywhere from caves in the island’s northern karst region to its deepest canyon in its mountainous heart.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we opened new trails and formalized others in protected lands to encourage hikers, mountain bikers, birdwatchers and naturalists of all backgrounds to take to the outdoors and discover nature’s ecosystem services.

For example, our trails in Hacienda La Esperanza, once a sugarcane plantation and now a natural reserve located right on the Río Grande de Arecibo’s delta to the Atlantic Ocean, have become the training grounds for thousands of mountain bikers that started cycling during the pandemic. Their gentle slopes with rewarding views of the ocean at the top, wide and winding corridors under the canopy and along beaches, and seemingly never-ending strolls under the sun and through the river’s floodplains have something to offer to everyone.

Nevertheless, as the trails grow longer and more popular, we need to learn how to build and manage more sustainable trails and engage trail users to take ownership of their trails and join our maintenance efforts. I aim to lead this effort, but I must first learn the way.

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322 views • posted 12/02/2022