Every now and then, unique opportunities to visit special, far-off riding destinations pop into my inbox. Most of them are outside of my scope, either due to the travel demands or my own lack of budget. But I've always really wanted to visit Puerto Rico, and when Martín Hanzlík emailed me the story of the recent success of the local advocacy group, I realized immediately that it was perfect for Local Loam.
Martín, born and raised in Puerto Rico, is a geophysicist working in Houston, TX. After Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston, and two short weeks later, Hurricane María destroyed Puerto Rico, Martín felt helpless and wasn't sure what he could do for his friends and family back on the island.
Martín's coworker, John Blum, a fellow geophysicist, was on the board of GHORBA, the Greater Houston Off-Road Biking Association. John had begun applying for hurricane recovery grants for the Houston group after Harvey's destruction. Inspired by John's success, Martín asked John if he'd be able to give some pointers on securing some funding for some Puerto Rican mountain bike recovery efforts. Sure enough, John agreed and shared an extensive amount of resources with Martín. The hunt for a grant that would work with a US territory, and not only a US state, was difficult and narrowed the list, but in the end, John and Martín found a grant available through People for Bikes.
Martín worked hard to identify a great local Puerto Rican group to receive the grant, and the Cabo Rojo Bike and Hike Trails Association, based in the southwest corner of Puerto Rico, was an ideal fit. Martín is a big fan of the riding in the area and visited this part of the country often. However, since Martín had been living in the mainland for so long, he didn't actually know any of the board members of Cabo Rojo Bike and Hike. After a few phone calls and many more emails, the Cabo Rojo Bike and Hike board realized Martín was serious with his offer of doing the legwork to secure the grant.
Lo and behold, the group won the $10,000 grant, and the timing to announce it all worked out amazingly well. Cabo Rojo Bike and Hike held their first ever Enduro race in February 2019, and Martín attended, even competing in the race himself. No one at the event really knew Martín, and none of the other racers had any idea about the grant. Then, after racing was done for the day, Jansen called Martín up to the awards podium and announced to the crowd what Martín had done and that the group would indeed be receiving the grant.
This grant is a big step forwards for Cabo Rojo Bike and Hike, as previously, the board members (Jansen, Luis Padilla, Jose Rivera) had simply paid for the club's expenses out of their own pockets. This model was not sustainable in the long term, but they weren't sure how to grow the association, but nonetheless were dedicated to growing the sport they loved within the Cabo Rojo region. The grant money will be used for trail signage and maintenance.
Puerto Rico is 3,750 miles from my hometown of Bellingham, WA. Between the flights, rental car, and lodging, this episode was outside my budget for the Local Loam series. I discussed this with Martín and Jansen, and they two agreed to- with their personal funds- cover our travel expenses. Big thanks to them for their support on this!
And finally, one thing that was super cool- John Blum explained to me that many of his own grant application best practices and contacts were shared with him from SORBA (https://sorba.org/) as well as the San Diego Mountain Bike Association (https://sdmba.com/. The advocacy community is well aware of the need for the different regional groups to work together, and this example of different groups helping one another is something that I hope will inspire even more groups to think bigger for the sport we all love so much.