Melissa Prager EcoTravel Blog

Follow my journey from Odessa’s Black Sea to Siberia’s Lake Baikal as I meet with ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

August 16 was a historic day between Ukraine and the US, and the Center for Safe Energy was honored to be a part of it. The newly established Nizhnidnestrovsky National Park in the Odessa region of Ukraine, and Florida’s Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve signed the first sister national park agreement between the US and Ukraine.

Both parks are amazingly similar in their terrain, historic significance, and mission to balance ecological preservation and recreation, making them a good match for partnering and exchanging ideas and resources. Nizhnednestrovsky National Park is located in the delta of the Dneistr river, and like Timucuan, lies on one of the last unspoiled wetlands. The Dneistr is a transboundary river which flows over 800 miles in six regions of Ukraine and Moldova. The wetlands of the Dneistr are protected by the Ramsar convention. From this convention, one of the long-term goals was to establish a national park in the region which would protect the unique flora and fauna. After ten years of an upward battle, the park was finally founded just three years ago. Near Dniznednestrovsky National Park lies the ancient Belgorod-Dnestrovsky fortress from the 5th century B.C.E..On the territory of Timucuan, there is also a French fortress dating back to the 17th century (ancient for American standards!). We were excited to facilitate the meeting of these two parks who decided to sign this first US-Ukrainian National Park partnership!

The theme of ecotourism has become an increasingly popular topic amongst the environmental community in the countries of the former Soviet Union. One of CSE’s Ukrainian partners, the Ecological Center for Sustainable Development of Odessa, requested that we bring US experts on parks management and ecotourism to the Odessa region as consultants. During the week of August 10-18, we participated in an exchange to the Odessa region where we explored Dnizninestrovsky National Park, Tiligulsky Landscape Park, and the city of Odessa’s environmental community. Although the concept of “ecotourism” is still in its nascent stage, we saw that there is great opportunity for future development of adventure tourism to this region of Ukraine. Most adventure travelers who come to Ukraine choose the Carpathian Mountains or Crimea. Many Ukrainian and foreign tourists take cruises on the Black Sea and during their Odessa stint are usually limited to seeing the city’s top sites. We think that there is great opportunity to get people out into the great Ukrainian land for a bike ride around the national park, or explore the Dneistr by canoe and touch the lilies for good luck if you are a maiden in search of your man. Oh the possibilities…

The real question at hand that we are seeing in all the countries of the FSU in regards to ecotourism, is how to create an infrastructure for trekking into the wild in a culture that is accustomed to “wild tourism” going where their spirit takes them. Read Russian literature and you’ll read the reverence for nature and exploration-it’s just part of their culture. Introducing hiking trails to streamline tourism is such a foreign concept, although one that we really pride ourselves on in the US—National Parks—“America’s Best Idea”. Just as in our past delegations we’ve grappled with alternative energy in the FSU and came to conclude that alternative sources of energy are dependent on the local resources—in Tajikistan small-scale hydropower far outweighs energy efficiency than solar or wind. The relationship between land and people of course is dependent on the history of the land and people. Creating national parks in order to streamline the human impact on America’s greatest natural landscapes was still people-oriented. In Ukraine and Russia the concept of a national park is still limited to protecting the land from people more than for people.

We’ll be grappling with similar questions in just a few weeks in the Lake Baikal region of Siberia. Until then…

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All pictures care of Melissa Prager