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Plans to make Mainalo a national park

At a conference earlier this month, Vytina Mayor Costas Kountanis and other supporters of Mainalo National Park publicly asked for the government’s help in preserving the Arcadian mountain. Many voices were raised in support. Local residents have been alarmed to see the renowned fir forest of Mainalo and its rare ecosystem under threat from burgeoning building activity of recent years. «During the occupation, when the Germans started felling trees in the wood at the entrance to Vytina, the village chairman told them that the residents would bring them any firewood they needed as long as they did not destroy the forest,» Kountanis said at the July 9-10 conference, sponsored by the Culture Ministry. «Now the mountain is suffering from new invaders. But we will protect it at all costs.» So Kountanis proposed a motion, unanimously approved by Mainalo boosters, asking for a presidential decree to protect the Arcadian mountain according to an environmental study by the National Agricultural Research Foundation (ETHIAGE). The Italian experience Among those who responded to conference invitations from the municipality of Vytina were officials responsible for operating and protecting the Abruzzo National Park in Italy. They shared with the other participants their long experience of working at a park that has been dubbed «the green heart of Europe,» where they have successfully combined conservation of the natural environment with the socioeconomic development of local communities. «Like Arcadia, Abruzzo is a mountainous region. Our wealth is nature – the land, the water, the air. That’s what we aimed at, placing special emphasis on the harmonious coexistence of the population with the park and the protection regime that it entailed,» said Franco Caramanico, environmental adviser to the Abruzzo district. «Because when we say ‘protected area,’ we don’t mean only the natural environment but also the traditions, art, culture, architecture and local products.» «Our visit to the municipality of Vytina expresses our desire for cooperation between the Greek community of Arcadia and the community of Abruzzo,» Caramanico continued. «Our aim is to create the conditions for substantive cooperation and exchanges in matters of cultural heritage, history and experience.» Now home to more than 2,000 species of flora and rare fauna such as the Marsicano bear and the Abruzzo antelope, the park has numerous centers for visitors, a network of 150 signposted footpaths and 2,000 volunteers in addition to the permanent staff employed by the managing body. «The park has a total area of 4,000 hectares,» said Domenico Neri, deputy mayor of the small town of Pescaseroli. «We could not ignore the people who live in the area; we tried to persuade them to participate in their own way.» Uncontrolled building The Mainalo conference began with an account of what had been done so far to protect the ecosystem of the Arcadian ranges. Arcadia Prefect Dimitris Constantopoulos summed up the actions taken by the Life program, which ended last summer and which includes certification of sustainable forest management at Mainalou – the first of its kind in Greece. However, local government representatives of all the municipalities adjacent to Mainalo sounded the alarm for the future, voicing concern that when the conference finished «we will all go back unhappily into our shells, worrying about the illegal trash dumps on the mountain, uncontrolled building in forest clearings, and the lack of fire zones which makes us fear a repeat of the disaster in 2000 when half the mountain was burnt,» as Levidi Mayor Thanassis Kavourinos put it. Most speakers took the same line, emphasizing the difference between exploitation and use. They proposed developing eco-tourism, not in the heart of the forest but in the highland villages so as to boost the local economy, and they asked for a stop to permits for luxurious villas in forest clearings. The presidential decree has already been delayed far too long. Though the proposal for the Mainalo Ecological and Cultural Park has received EU approval, it has been gathering dust at the jointly responsible ministries of Public Works, Agriculture and Culture for more than a year, awaiting its much-discussed transformation into law.

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