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Visitor management national parc Adula

Defining a trail and route network for a new national park

At a glance


Switzerland has the oldest national park in Central Europe and in the Alps – the Swiss National Park in the Engadin Valley. Established in 1914 and with an area of 170 km2, the park is well known, and has strict but well accepted rules for visitors (Backhaus and Rupf, 2014). The Swiss National Park is not classified as a National Park, but as a Strict Nature Reserve category Ia (IUCN). It only consists of a core area without a buffer zone.

In 2007 the legal basis for new protected areas in Switzerland including national parks (IUCN category II) was established. This was the beginning of several initiatives to launch new national park projects. One of them is Parc Adula (see Figure 1), situated in the south eastern part of Switzerland, with a total area of 1,250 km2 and a core zone of 145 km2 (12 %). Parc Adula is part of the territory of two different cantons and authorities (Grison and Ticino). In addition, Parc Adula is home to three different languages and cultures (Italian, Romansh and German), with about 16,000 residents in 17 communities. The land drops from the highest peak, Piz Adula, from 3,402 m to 349 m, and different biogeographical regions are therefore represented.

A trail and route network is a central component of the visitor management system of a national park. A trail is defined as a marked official mountain hiking trail or a fairly difficult marked alpine trail. In contrast, a route is not marked. An alpine mountain or climbing route is only described in climbing guides, e.g. the Swiss Alpine Club SAC.

Several basic concepts and management frameworks have been developed, especially in North America. As guidelines, the approach of ‘Recreational Carrying Capacity’ RCC (Manning, 2007), the frameworks ‘Recreation Opportunities Spectrum’ ROS (Clark and Stankey, 1979), and ‘Limits of Acceptable Change’ LAC (Stankey et al., 1985) have been used. Starting from an inventory of unique landscapes, habitats of vegetation and wildlife species as well as important sites for recreation, a system of development objectives, principles and measures has been elaborated with the involvement of park management.

In respect of Parc Adula, it was crucial to select the most beautiful and important routes for the locals, hikers and mountaineers. This infrastructure needed to remain accessible to ensure that the project is accepted by these stakeholders. For this purpose a working group was formed with local mountain guides, SAC representatives, wardens of mountain huts, hiking guides, etc. The group characterized all routes in the park with regard to their importance for mountaineering and estimated frequency of use. Similarly, wildlife specialists evaluated the routes regarding their potential for disturbances to wildlife. These assessments from the perspective of recreational use and conservation were taken as the main bases to develop a balanced proposal for the core zone, implementing the requirements of the Park Ordinance. This proposal was discussed at workshops with all stakeholders. In some cases workshop participants were unable to find agreement and the board of Parc Adula made the final decisions.