Economics minister Joseph Deiss has officially opened the largest Swiss nature park at a ceremony in Tiefencastel in the Albula valley, canton Graubünden.This content was published on June 3, 2006 - 17:26
Parc Ela, which covers an area of 600 square kilometres, is rich in scenery and cultural assets of national importance.
Deiss said that 21 communes had united to create the park, which was a model of supra-regional cooperation.
The 6,000 residents of the Albula and Surses valleys had "thought locally and acted globally", he commented.
"Switzerland is waking up! Everywhere in the country political, geographic and social borders are being broken down in the interest of better regional development."
According to the initiators, the park aims to protect a biotope that is to a large extent left to nature while giving a new boost to the region, which is economically weak.
Deiss said it was not a museum but "a space in which people live in respect of nature and the countryside".
He added that the nature park should help promote sustainable use of the mountain region, which the government was prepared to actively support.
Parc Ela, which takes its name from the Piz Ela peak at 3,338 metres above sea level, is three and a half times the size of the Swiss National Park in the Engadine and almost as big as canton Glarus.
It is located in the heart of Graubünden in the region of Albula-Bergün and Savognin-Bivio.
A quarter of the park's surface is for the most part untouched nature, while a third consists of moors and meadowland.
Contrary to the national park, which is totally protected, agriculture and local villages are integrated into Parc Ela's concept.
The 21 founding communes have each pledged in the first phase to invest SFr100,000 ($82,760) annually for four years.
Another SFr400,000 has come from the lottery of canton Zurich and SFr200,000 from the Pro Natura nature conservation organisation. Canton Graubünden has pledged SFr50,000 for the next three years.
"Financing of the park is covered up to 2008. Afterwards we are counting on the support of the government," commented the directors of the project Dieter Müller.
Government support depends on the outcome of debate in parliament over a revision of the law on the protection of nature and the countryside, which will define the status of parks in Switzerland.
The House of Representatives wants to make it compulsory for the government to give financial support, while the Senate opposes this.
swissinfo with agencies
The 21 communes involved in the Parc Ela project are each supporting it with SFr100,000 until 2008.
SFr400,00 is being donated from the lottery fund of canton Zurich.
Canton Graubünden has earmarked SFr50,000 annually for the next three years.
Depending on a decision in parliament the government could also take part in financing the park.
Since the revision of the law on nature and heritage in 2005, Switzerland recognises three categories of parks: national parks, regional nature parks and experience parks.
The Senate and the House of Representatives are at odds over a revision of the law on the protection of nature. Their differences are due to be ironed out in the summer session of parliament.
Switzerland has only one national park in the Engadine in canton Graubünden.. It was created on August 1, 1914 and covers an area of 172.4 square kilometres. About 150,000 people visit it annually.
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