On May 7, 2010, the state regulation for the "Vulkaneifel Nature Park" was issued. It came into effect on June 17, 2010. A festive event took place at the Deudesfeld Forest Stage on May 31, 2010, to mark this occasion. Over a decade of efforts, consultations, and discussions at the municipal and ministerial levels, involving all interest groups, came to a conclusion. However, the real work has only just begun because now it is essential to breathe life into the Vulkaneifel Nature Park and capitalize on the opportunities it offers for the sustainable development of our region.
The Vulkaneifel Nature Park is the 102nd nature park in the Federal Republic of Germany and the eighth in Rhineland-Palatinate. It covers the association municipalities of Daun, Hillesheim, and Kelberg, as well as parts of the association municipalities of Gerolstein, Obere Kyll, Manderscheid, and Ulmen. Its area of 980 km² spans across local and association municipalities in three districts and borders the Northwest to the North Eifel Nature Park.
The concept of nature parks can be traced back to the Hamburg entrepreneur and conservationist Dr. Alfred Töpfer, who called for a program to establish initially 25 nature parks in 1956. He viewed nature parks as "large-scale areas" intended to provide "open-access protected recreational landscapes" for all. In 1959, the Federal Institute for Spatial Research outlined the following guidelines in its report on "Suitable Landscapes for the Selection of Nature Parks":
When creating nature parks, the focus must be on people in all efforts and measures... Present-day landscapes must be designed for present-day people, where city dwellers can find beauty, peace, and relaxation, and where rural residents can sustain themselves completely..."
Nature parks should be oriented towards large cities and metropolitan areas in terms of location and facilities... Nature parks are primarily suitable for quiet, naturally scenic landscapes, at least half of which are wooded, with a rural character, preferably in hilly or medium mountainous terrain."
These guidelines encompass two central elements that not only remain valid today but have been strengthened and expanded through subsequent legal changes: Firstly, the close connection between nature conservation and recreation, with a focus on people rather than nature, and secondly, the equivalence of recreation for urban dwellers and economic activity for rural residents ("sustenance").
The Federal Nature Conservation Act of March 25, 2002, expanded and clarified the tasks of nature parks regarding sustainable development and environmentally compatible land use. The central message is that sustainable regional development should be promoted. This federal regulation was adopted in Rhineland-Palatinate through the State Nature Conservation Act of September 28, 2005.
If the process leading to the issuance of the Vulkaneifel Nature Park Regulation took more than a decade, it was likely because the central elements and extended tasks of a nature park had to be brought to the forefront through intensive discussion. Supporters, opponents, and those weighing the pros and cons from all interest groups and positions should not only be satisfied but also motivated and mobilized to engage in nature park work. The premise is that the people living in the Vulkaneifel are the focus.
According to the Vulkaneifel Nature Park Regulation, it is now the task of the Vulkaneifel Nature Park:
- to protect, maintain, and develop the Vulkaneifel with its volcanic remnants, maars, moors, streams, meadows, pastures, valleys, mountains, forests, and dry grasslands as a large, unified area of importance for nature and landscape, and to preserve or restore the natural balance,
- to promote and develop its suitability as a natural space for sustainable recreation and environmentally friendly tourism, including sports, and
- to maintain, nurture, and develop the characteristic diversity, uniqueness, and beauty of the landscape shaped by various uses and its diversity of species and habitats, striving for a permanently environmentally friendly land use,
- based on its natural, cultural, and economic quality, to increase sustainable regional added value through the collaboration of all stakeholders and interested parties, including the commercial sector, and
- to maintain, nurture, and develop the cultural and recreational landscape, including agriculture and forestry, and
- to promote overall sustainable regional development.
All of this, because it is in legal text, may sound lofty and demanding. In essence, it is about shaping the future oneself through regional development, rather than being subjected to globalization and the policies of metropolitan regions.
Endogenous or independent regional development emerged in the 1970s as a counter-movement to global world economy and central-place policies. It sees itself as development that consciously relies on the upgrading of decentralized potentials in rural areas. In the context of the sustainability discussion from 1995 onwards, it received a significant boost as "sustainable regional development." From that point on, the European Union also linked important regional development programs to this new basic idea.
Compared to other nature parks in Rhineland-Palatinate, the Vulkaneifel Nature Park has special features:
- The Vulkaneifel Nature Park is run by the Nature and GeoPark Vulkaneifel GmbH, while other nature parks are run by associations.
This company originated from the Vulkaneifel Tourism GmbH (VTG).
When the tasks of a tourism regional agency were largely transferred to the newly established Eifel Tourism GmbH in 2000, the VTG was restructured into GeoPark Vulkaneifel GmbH with the task of geotouristic enhancement and marketing of the region. During the discussions regarding the establishment of the Vulkaneifel Nature Park, the scope of tasks was expanded to include the nature park sponsorship, and the name was changed to Natur- und GeoPark Vulkaneifel GmbH. The background for this previously uncommon form of sponsorship is the partially congruent tasks of the nature park and geopark, the extensive territorial congruence, the consolidation of financial and human resources, the bundled acquisition of funding, and marketing advantages. Everyone interested in the unified development of the nature park and the realization of its protective purpose has the opportunity to become shareholders of the sponsoring company through group representation.
- Compared to others, the Vulkaneifel Nature Park Regulation is more liberal. Approval requirements are reduced, and prohibitions apply only to core zones.
- The task of the Vulkaneifel Nature Park is to promote overall sustainable regional development. While this is not mentioned in other nature park regulations, the second youngest Rhineland-Palatinate nature park regulation, Soonwald, only states "contribute" instead of "promote."
The task of the Vulkaneifel Nature Park is defined in a forward-looking, rather than backward-looking, sense, not in the spirit of "aesthetic nature conservation." Nature and landscape in the nature park should be protected and developed in such a way that the economic livelihood of the people living there is permanently ensured. However, sustainable business practices and actions do not automatically emerge in a market. Globalization often destroys existing sustainable economic forms. Instead, this must be carefully promoted by consumers, producers, and politics.
For the Vulkaneifel Nature Park, this means that in order to achieve its environmental goals, there must be a targeted commitment to sustainable business practices and sustainable regional development. Nature park work thus becomes regional management in the broad and comprehensive sense. It is about consciously bundling and consolidating all forces from the fields of economy, society, culture, environment, and politics in the nature park area under the common guiding principle of "sustainable regional development."
The Association of German Nature Parks adopted the "Petersberg Program of Nature Parks in Germany" on September 9, 2006, which formulates the following priorities for the tasks of nature parks:
Sustainable Regional Development
Nature parks are model landscapes. They offer people a diverse and healthy environment and the opportunity for recreation in nature. Through targeted management, they must contribute to sustainable regional development, increased quality of life, and the economic well-being of the population.
Nature Conservation and Landscape Management
In the future, nature parks will play an even more decisive role in preserving biological diversity and creating a nationwide network of habitats. Sustainable agriculture and forestry, as well as targeted protection, care, and development measures, will create the conditions for preserving typical cultural and natural landscapes with their diversity of habitats and species.
Recreation and Sustainable Tourism
Nature parks, due to their scenic characteristics and recreational opportunities and offerings, must be even more integrated into the work and marketing concepts of tourism organizations at the federal, state, and regional levels.
Environmental Education and Communication
Environmental education offerings for residents and guests, as well as creative public relations work, must further increase acceptance for sustainable business practices, as well as for nature and landscape protection, and more strongly promote people's connection and commitment to their region.
Service and Accessibility
Nature parks must develop further as service facilities for locals, visitors, and cooperation partners. The offerings of nature parks must be of high quality, accessible, and barrier-free for all.
Sustainable Landscape Development
In nature parks, there must be a stronger, environmentally friendly, efficient, and socially acceptable reduction of land consumption, as well as consistent preservation of open spaces until 2020, more so than in other areas.
For the Vulkaneifel Nature Park, it is now essential, against the backdrop of demographic change, to shape its work in a way that leads to an improvement in the economic, ecological, and social situation in our rural region.
Nature park work and its financing by the state, municipalities, and the business sector are to be understood as an investment in a forward-looking infrastructure service that benefits future generations. The synergistic combination of geotouristic enhancement and marketing of our volcanic landscape with the regional development potential of a nature park through the sponsorship of Natur- und GeoPark Vulkaneifel GmbH presents a unique opportunity.