Campaign to save Mt Mainalo

A group of dedicated mountaineers living in Arcadia have launched a campaign to save Mt Mainalo, the highest mountain in the prefecture and an area that not only has sustained massive damage from forest fires, chiefly in August 2000, but which they fear is in danger of going the way of many other beautiful landscapes after having become more accessible to city-dwellers. The Association of Mountaineers and Environmentalists of Arcadia (SAOO) recently presented its case for having the mountain and its environs declared a protected area at a meeting of the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature in Athens, but it has been drawing attention to the issue since the association was founded in 1998. As a first step, an environmental study has been completed for the development company Arcadia SA and the prefecture by the National Institute for Agricultural Research (ETHIAGE), a SAOO official told Kathimerini English Edition this week. «The study forms the basis for a presidential decree, in accordance with law 1650, which will designate the region for protection as well as set out the rules to govern it. This is the first step toward getting a region protected status,» she said. The association has presented proposals to local government organizations for sustainable development based on the premise that the local economy depends on maintaining the natural environment and traditional settlements. Since the Artemisio tunnel has opened, Tripolis is just a couple of hours from Athens and there has been an influx of tourists of all kinds, including those for whom conservation and sustainability is not a priority. «We want to encourage nature lovers and mountaineers who understand the importance of preserving the region for their own enjoyment, and in doing so will preserve it for future generations, which is what we want,» said the SAOO official, who also said the group had also been encouraged by changing attitudes among the local population due to a number of conferences, exhibitions and educational programs the association has organized. «Sustainability is not a utopia where the focus is on the environment and the human element ignored,» was the theme of an article in a recent issue in its journal. It sees sustainability as a comprehensive approach to water resources, soil, biodiversity, the atmosphere, the economy, health and education. It has called for centralized prefectural and regional planning, implementation of legislation on the environment, as well as the completion of planned ecology and culture parks on Mt Mainalo and Mt Parnonas. They also call for set limits on unbridled tourism development. «That kind of development is not viable and cannot continue. What we need is a special zoning study for all Arcadia, determining the use of land and the potential of the ecosystems,» it said. Recycling and proper waste management, conservation and governance of water resources, protection of wetlands, lakes and rivers, the proper management of urban and suburban green spaces, energy conservation and education in environmental issues are some of the other areas where the association calls for action. Legendary landscape Mainalo and its surrounding area certainly deserve close attention, not only for the local natural beauties, such as the slopes of Mainalo, the Lousios Gorge and the area’s traditional architecture, but also for its history and legends. Set in the heart of the Peloponnese, Mainalo, which in legend was sacred to the god Pan, forms the heartland of the prefecture and the starting point for tours of the mountains of the central Peloponnese. The 1,600-meter-high peak, easily climbed in a couple of hours from the alpine refuge, is surrounded by some of the largest forests of Cephalonian fir in Greece. A good road network means the region is fairly accessible – Tripolis (at 660 meters above sea level) is now only a couple of hours in travel time from Athens – but the mountain and its surroundings are best appreciated away from busier tourist destinations. Drivers of off-road vehicles and motorbikes seeking to get away from the crowds have a wide choice of routes to take, not to mention hikers and climbers, for whom the mountain and its many forest roads and paths is a paradise, while there are excellent maps and guides to a large number of scenic routes. In the Anavasi series, there is a hikers’ map of western Mainalo and the Lousios Gorge under the title «Lousios,» in the Topo 25 range, just published in November. A more general guide is «Dromoi Panos» («Roads of Pan») by Gramma Publications which sets out 10 road routes with maps. It outlines the region’s history and suggests sights, hotels and restaurants in traditional settlements popular with visitors, such as Vytina, Dimitsana, with its water power museum, and Stemnitsa, with an interesting folklore museum, as well as lesser-known destinations such as Lagadia where there are spectacular views for those who can manage the hike to the top of the valley, and Libovisi, the home village of Greek War of Liberation hero Theodoros Kolokotronis, whose family home has been beautifully restored. A chapter on the mountain is also included in Road editions’ guide «Unexplored Peloponnese» with information for off-road vehicle drivers and motorcyclists on scenic routes to out-of-the-way places, such as the Pagoni Spring and a forest road leading to Levidi, the chapel of Profitis Ilias in a forest of fir trees east of Kardaras, the route through Vathyrema to the village of Rado and another route through a gorge to the village of Zigovitsi – all routes for off-road vehicles. Mountaineers have a range of paths and peaks to choose from, while there is a refuge run by the Greek Alpine Club (EOS) branch based in Tripolis (tel 2710.226.296). EOS, as well as SAOO, organizes regular weekend treks and climbs. Skiers head for the five slopes at Ostrakina, 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) from Tripolis (tel 2796.222.27). SAOO is organizing a four- to five-hour trek this Sunday along the ridge of Mt Seitas in the Helmos range with views over the Pheneos plateau. A coach leaves the main square in Tripolis at 7 a.m., but check first with SAOO at tel 2710.234.980.