French natural parks warn of ‘harmful effects’ of mass tourism

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Amid uncertainty surrounding the evolution of Covid-19 and border restrictions, many French people are choosing to explore their own country instead of going abroad for summer vacation. The implications are not all positive.

After a peak 2020 summer season for nature tourism, this year promises to be busy. Reservations are up 20% according to figures from the G2A firm for the National Association of Mayors of Mountain Resorts (ANMSM).

“As we welcome this reunion between the French and their nature, we must now call on them to be extremely vigilant,” France’s national and regional parks warned in a collective letter last month.

“Our natural spaces are fragile.”

In 2020, the Hautes-Alpes in southeastern France welcomed the highest number of summer tourists ever recorded.

The Parc des Ecrins saw its attendance jump, as did the surrounding region Gavarniein the Hautes-Pyrénées, where there were 30% more tourists than in 2019.

“The main change is the new public who come from nearby towns and who do not all know the mountains”, specifies Pierrick Navizet, from Ecrins Park.

“Explosion of Bad Manners”

To Lauvitel Lake, a grandiose and easily accessible natural site in Isère, in the south-east, up to 1,000 people hiked over the weekend last August. Park rangers noted an “explosion of bad behavior”.

They recorded a doubling of the number of offenses compared to 2019: deposit of waste, fires, theft of equipment, breakage of chalets…

“We were a little tired”, after last summer, admits Pierre-Henri Peyret, the boss of the sector, adding “but it is up to us to adapt”.

Outlining a management plan for the new season, he said the priority was better communication to inform the public about good practices, such as wearing sturdy shoes, staying away from herd guard dogs and not lighting of fires.

There are two ways to get the message across. The first is Instagram, where many inexperienced hikers find their next idea for an outing, and the second is in the parks themselves, where more rangers will be there to “raise awareness of the regulations” but also to organize activities, such as wildlife identification.

Shuttles, not cars

In the Vercors, a massif near the cities of Lyon and Grenoble, the protected site of La Molière saw 294 visitors jostle for 60 parking spaces in a single day last year.

“When we have spent half an hour parking, arguing with another for a place, we are no longer in the nature reserve, we are in mass consumption”, laments Quentin Chabanne, project manager at the Vercors Regional Natural Park.

The park is now considering banning cars from the site and replacing them with a shuttle service.

(Wwith the AFP)

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