[Take a look in the Updates section for instructions on how to make a donation and the latest news about the Footpath]
The Footpath of stories in Crăiască Forest (the Princely Forest) is an ecotourism and experiential learning project, for the people of Maramureș and Maramureș lovers.
Crăiască Forest is a forest with ancient trees, the kind that you cannot fully grasp with your arms or your sight. It is a stone’s throw away from Ocna Șugatag, in the heart of Mara-Cosău-Rooster’s Peak ecotourism destination, in Historical Maramureș.
Due to the unusual mix of tree species - oak and larch, the forest became a seeds reserve in 1977 and later on it was declared a natural protected area of national interest. It is being cared for by a conscientious custodian – a small, hardworking and well prepared team at Maramureș Mountains Nature Park.
Crăiască Forest is an impressive presence but, in spite of its closeness to Ocna, it’s not part of the life of the local community. Although there’s a strong cultural bond between the forest and the Maramureș people, a bond which we may see in the "wood civilisation" of Maramureș, Crăiască Forest ”lives” in isolation. Both from the community and from other forested areas.
Birds have found a good home here, though, inside this green patch which reminds of us imperial times and the vast swathes of forest that brought Maramureș its renown. The forest is inhabited by 51 bird species which create a constant clamour; they are the “soul” of the forest. The old and young oak trees, the shrub such as the hazel tree, hawthorn or the dogwood provide good conditions for nesting, while food can be found in abundance here.
What's troubling us
Where the forest touches on the inhabited areas, there is litter left on the ground, in spite of the existing waste collection public services. Even inside the forest, in the circulated areas, one can find packaging from various products thrown randomly around.
In the absence of a marked trail through the forest, visitors can easily lose their way and can cause disturbance to the bird species that are more sensitive or cannot adapt to human presence, but also to the vegetation (especially in terms of natural regeneration). All of these are affecting the landscape beauty of the Crăiască Forest and the visiting experience and have a negative impact on the natural environment.
What do we have in mind
The project Footpath of stories consists of creating a visiting trail through the forest, with proper markings and boards which guide you through the places that can be accessed by the public; the boards will tell the stories of the forest, with its history and its place in the local identity, the species of trees, the forms of life and the webs of life, the various services offered by the forest, the afterlife of trees and the human impact on the forest.
As a "by-product" of the trail, we want to develop an educational package for the schools around here, that would include a manual for interpreting the subjects presented on the boards and other supporting materials (e.g. drawings of species); the manual will have interactive lessons to stimulate pupils’ engagement with the stories and the surroundings and will be used by teachers to create interesting and memorable outdoors experiences for the youngsters, in the middle of Crăiască Forest.
We also want to promote the rules for visiting the reserve by posting them up on the footpath and through the local tourism network and to find solutions, alongside the townhall and the forest custodian, to sort out the litter issue.
For all of this, but also for other similar future projects, we opened up a Fund for Conservation and Local Development where we collected financial contributions from small local guesthouses and a few tour-operators that bring tourists in this area. They are our close collaborators who are thus demonstrating that they are attached to the local values and they want for tourism to be based on, and contribute to the maintenance and regeneration of these values.
What do the locals say
Some time ago we conducted a poll with the owners of guesthouses in Ocna Șugatag, to find out how they perceive the state of the forest and if they want a visiting trail through it. Firstly, they said that Crăiască Forest is important both for the local community and the tourism businesses; some of them expressed their discontent with the fact that the forest is not managed and promoted enough so they benefit from it. All of the respondents said that a thematic trail would be useful in order to improve the visiting experience.
The benefits of the project
We’re creating the Footpath of stories in order to:
- show that a common investment in a natural protected area can bring substantial gains for the community: it can lure more people who appreciate this kind of special places and look for outdoor experiences, and it offers the possibility for local guesthouses to diversify their tourism offer
- show that working together is possible and beneficial to all those involved and for the conservation of local values, and to show that everybody – be it locals, tourists, public institutions, members of civil society – has a role in maintaining and encouraging the balance between nature conservation and economic growth
- reintegrate Crăiască Forest in the life and thoughts of the local community: by promoting its value and its forgotten stories, thus feeding the pride of having it nearby, and by offering a way in which the community can use it (for recreation purposes)
- offer an eco-friendly and accessible infrastructure for programmes of non-formal education and stimulate feelings of attachment and care towards the forest and nature, in general, amongst the young generation
- extend the visiting infrastructure in the Mara-Cosău-Rooster’s Peak ecotourism destination, where the need for an improved ecotourism offer and higher quality services is already known
The idea of the Footpath of stories has been discussed and agreed locally, at first with the people who contributed to the Conservation Fund, and then with the institutions that have an administrative/decision-making role: Ocna Șugatag townhall, the owner of the forest (Mara Forestry Unit) and the custodian of the forest/reserve (Maramureș Mountains Nature Park).
As the dialogue with, and engagement of the community has always been a priority for us, we started a collaboration with Ocna Șugatag Highschool. Last year we organised a drawing contest for the 5th-7th grades, by which we wanted to nurture pupils’ curiosity about the Crăiască Forest and to see the forest and nature through their eyes. The winning drawing belonged to a 7th grade girl who has graduated the highschool in the meantime. Her interpretation will find its place on the first information board from the Footpath of stories. This year, the highschool headmaster, the drawing teacher and the 3 pupils who won the first places in the contest accepted our invitation to appear in some of the photographs used in this campaign, in order to show their support.
We already have 600 Euro in the local Conservation Fund. This represents 15% of the costs of creating the Footpath of stories, which reach 4.100 Euro.
The difference between the actual budget of the project and the sum that we are asking for through this appeal comes from production and delivery costs of perks and the commission charged by the bank and the crowdfunding platform.
All of your contributions will go into the local Conservation Fund, along with the existing local contribution.
1. The trail and the info boards: design and production story boards; production of wooden frames by a local craftsman; installing the boards in the forest and marking the trail.
2. Signposts indicating the way to the Footpath of stories, made from wood by the local craftsman and installed in visible spots in Ocna Șugatag.
3. The edu-kit: design and printing of manual and production of supporting materials.
4. Training the teachers at Ocna Șugatag Highschool and other schools from this area in how to use the edu-kit and, ideally, a testing of the kit in the forest, along the footpath.
5. Promoting the Footpath of stories to the wider local community and tourism sector.
This is a local initiative coordinated by:
The Centre for Ecology and Tourism Maramures (CET) – the administrator of the local Conservation Fund; a member of the team that is developing the Mara-Cosău-Rooster’s Peak area according to ecotourism standards and criteria; NGO running activities of environmental education for the young, monitoring of wild flora and fauna in Maramureș and promoting tourism in Maramureș.
The initiative benefits from expert support (in nature conservation and ecotourism), as well as promotion from:
WWF-Romania – nature conservation organisation that has been active in Maramureș since 2006; WWF was the coordinator of the project through which the Conservation Fund was opened and a working group and framework was created at local level so that the area becomes a national ecotourism destination;
Association of Ecotourism in Romania – an NGO that is building a national network of ecotourism destinations; offers technical guidance in ecotourism in the project and also in the wider initiative of raising the quality of the visiting infrastructure in Mara-Cosău-Rooster’s Peak.
We are grateful for the generous support provided by Sony Pictures Television, which helped us place our call for donations on TV, namely on AXN stations, as part of the Imagine this campaign.
We have already started working on reducing the major risks: the rejection of the project by the local public authorities and by the owner and custodian of the forest. We organised meetings with representatives of the townhall, where we discussed the project and got their first approval and encouragement that we will work together to sort out the litter issue; we are now putting together the documentation for receiving official, written approval for the project and we will submit it as soon as we have the whole budget. We used the same approach with the owner and custodian of the forest, who said that this is the only project proposed to them until now that they approve of.
One fine body…