Italians learn from Adirondacks

PAUL SMITHS – Three delegates from the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines National Park visited Paul Smith’s College last week to learn about the Adirondack Park and to discuss the potential for a new ecotourism study-abroad program.

Paul Smith’s students participating in the program would travel to Italy and help develop ecotourism-based strategies, which could be implemented by park officials there.

“Just like the Adirondack Park, they need a tourist economy to grow,” Paul Smith’s President John Mills said. “I’m excited about it because it’s not just study abroad; it’s students actually producing a product for the country that’s hosting them.”

The 58,348-acre Italian park was created in May 2001. It contains the 6,500-foot elevation northern Apennine Mountains, which run east to west along the border of the Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna regions in Italy. It is a place where villages sit in deep mountain valleys and “buy local” isn’t a movement – it’s a way of life.

The park’s president, Fausto Giovanelli, explained that people have been leaving those villages to look for work, and that the park’s mission to attract visitors is to not only protect the biodiversity of the region but to protect the culture there, too. About 30 percent of all plant and animal species in Italy call the park home.

“One hundred years ago, the two slopes were very connected because the villages traded supplies, like salt from the sea and meat from the inland region,” said Giuseppe Vipnali, the park’s director. “Now, it becomes divided because with development there is trade from the north cities like Milan, and to the south with cities like Florence. Now, we try to put them back together.”

The mountain’s north- and south-facing slopes each have a different climate. It’s cooler facing north, while the slopes facing the Tyrrhenian Sea enjoy warmer, Mediterranean temperatures.

“You can go skiing and snorkeling all in one day,” Giovanelli said.

The delegates explained that running the young park has proven to be difficult. Without a clear vision or a set way to manage the park, that responsibility falls on villages, park officials and the government, who often don’t agree. In the end, the national government has the final say on each decision.

“We have problems with forest management,” Giovanelli said. “Many people living in the Apennines are older, and they don’t want to give up their land to trekkers and hikers. We haven’t found the right balance between private owners and the public.”

Giovanelli added that an infusion of cash could help preserve the culture in the villages, and those traditions could be used to attract tourists.

To develop ideas on how to make that happen, the delegates attended a New York state Adirondack Park Agency meeting during their visit. They commended the APA on its planning and said that approach could be implemented in their own planning.

“They plan a future for the next 20 years,” said Giacomo Berselli, founder of the Marco Polo Institute of Mediterranean Culture and Tourism. “One thing we don’t have is the opportunity for people to come and speak. People come in and say what their problems are, and you listen and take notes. This is a brand new activity for us. When you are going to a meeting like that, you have people yelling because we have blood. We are Italians, and we yell.”

The Marco Polo Institute works with Italian state governments, restaurants and several universities to bring students to Italy for a hands-on experience. The delegates who recently visited are hoping that a collaboration with Paul Smith’s ecotourism students and the Marco Polo Institute will bring a new voice to Tuscan-Emilian Apennines National Park.

“It’s important to have the vision of the local people, but to also have the vision of outside, of foreign people, to give a different vision, or point of view, with different eyes,” Berselli said. “At the end of their study there, we’re expecting to have a project to propose that could work.”

This isn’t the first time an Italian national park and the Adirondack Park have shared ideas. In the late 1990s and 2000s, Abruzzo National Park, also in the Apennines, and the Adirondacks had a series of exchanges.