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Preserving the Old

Here in Bosco-Gurin the old is trying to survive.

Cristina Della Pietra took me on a tour of the museum, where she showed me a photo of her grandfather carrying a pack full of hay that towered over his head. Cristina is proud to be a ‘Walser’, which is to say a descendant of those who crossed over from canton Valais during the 13th century.

Bosco-Gurin is best known as being a German-speaking enclave in this Italian region because of the Walser diaspora. The Walser people had filled all the available land in the Valais and thus began their great quest for new land, which has populated many parts of the high Alps with their descendants. At its maximum size the village counted 400 citizens. Now the number is down to 56, of which perhaps only 40 live here year-round. The school closed in 2002 when only three children attended. Cristina has offered language lessons to help preserve the German dialect, with limited success. But her family still speaks it and it's clear she wants the language to live on.

Bosco-Gurin would be near the northern extent of the national park that a go-getter called Samantha is trying to establish. The park would begin at the tropical islands of Brissago and continue to these alpine northern reaches of Ticino's western flank. The idea is to preserve and protect both the vast wild (by European standards) land and the cultural heritage in a way that helps to sustain the best of the region. This would be only the second national park in Switzerland, and the process is arduous. One of the biggest hurdles is that there must be buy-in by the voters of the region - which is in fact a region within a region within a region. Hunters in particular oppose it, fearing loss of their privileges (not true, says Samantha).

If the national government grants preliminary approval to begin the park process in September as hoped, then it will be another five years until it is put to a vote. Samantha's park project will launch some 50 separate smaller projects immediately in education, conservation and community outreach. I wish her and her team the best of luck as, in my opinion, this park would be utterly magnificent and global in significance.