Alpine poppy (Papaver corona-sancti-stephani© PCRAI

Centralparks in the Romanian Carpathians

The Carpathian Mountains stretch for over 900 km inside Romania, in the shape of an arch that separates Transylvania from the rest of the country. Their territory is covered by vast areas of pristine forests, in fact, according to expert estimates, up to ⅔ of the primary forests of Europe are located in Romania.The Romanian Carpathians are also home to the largest brown bear population in Europe and 45% of the large carnivores’ population of the continent. 

For the Centralparks project partner Piatra Craiului National Park and indirectly for the Romanian Protected Areas, the Centralparks project represents the link and the cooperation with other organisations dealing with a common interest, respectively the protection and preservation of Europe’s Carpathian biodiversity, to ultimately join forces for the protection of the unique Carpathian natural heritage surrounding us. 

The Piatra Craiului National Park

Piatra Craiului National Park is a protected area established in 1990 for the conservation of biodiversity and of the landscape, of valuable species, to promote and encourage tourism, and for public awareness and education in the spirit of nature protection and its values. It is situated in the Southern Carpathians including the entire Piatra Craiului Massif, which is a 25 km long calcareous ridge, reaching the highest altitude at 2238 m. Geomorphologically, the Piatra Craiului Massif is unique in Romania, due to the vertical position of the limestone layers, which creates the most spectacular mountain relief in the country, with hundred of meters high walls, spectacular gorges, valleys, ridges, towers, and needles, which are impressive relief forms.

The local conditions in the Piatra Craiului Massif secure rich flora and the vegetation of this territory comprises mainly of site-specific plant associations. The mountain and alpine species characteristic to the Carpathians have optimal vegetation conditions in the area. Until now, 1199 vascular plant species and subspecies have been recorded in the Piatra Craiului National Park, over 30% of the total higher plants in Romania, and significant beech and mixed forests. Around 150 plant species are included in the “Romanian Higher Plants Red List”, being endemic, rare or vulnerable. Piatra Craiului National Park is an important area for large carnivores as well, like the bear, wolf and lynx, as well as 21 bat species and 112 bird species.

The Piatra Craiului National Park Administration promotes, under the provisions of the management plan, the traditional use of the lands and keeping the traditional architecture.

Piatra Craiului pink (Dianthus callizonus), an endemic species only in Piatra Craiului © PCRAI

Tourism in Piatra Craiului

Piatra Craiului National Park Administration is responsible - through the Carpathian Network of Protected Area - for informing and involving the Romanian Carpathian Protected Areas on the results and achievements of the project. One of the strategic documents of the Centralparks project is the Strategy for local sustainable tourism development, based on natural and cultural heritage of the Carpathians. This policy support document firstly targets the protected area administrations and provides guidance, to update the visitor management plans/visitor strategies.

Connected to this deliverable of the Centralparks project, the first Visitation Strategy of Piatra Craiului National Park was elaborated in 2003, being the first sustainable tourism strategy for a protected area in Romania. It was developed under the umbrella of the project 'Biodiversity Conservation Management Project in Romania', financed by the Global Environment Facility through the World Bank as implementing agency, the Romanian Government and the National Forest Administration. The strategy focuses on public awareness and education of more than 110.000 visitors per year.

The National Park has a Communication Plan as well, which focuses on providing information and raising the awareness level of the visitors and local communities regarding the national park’s biodiversity and the necessity to promote this through information, partnership and consultation, in order to reduce the negative impact on biodiversity. 

Hiking in Piatra Craiului National Park © PCRAI

Visitor communication and management

Annually, the Piatra Craiului National Park welcomes more than 110.000 visitors, out of which 25% are foreigners. As consequence, a multitude of visitor infrastructure was established. Hikers are guided through signs and tourist marks on the 42 official tourist trails, which add up to approx. 200 kms. For those who engage in longer hikes, seven mountain shelters are established and maintained. Mountain bikers are also guided through signs and specific boards on the existing eleven biking trails. Those who wish to combine the hike with learning, four thematic and one educational trail are endowed with thematic information boards. For visitors who first wish to discover what this beautiful location/protected area has to offer, a Visitor Center and an Information Point were developed.

The Piatra Craiului National Park’s Visitor Centre offers a “virtual sightseeing” which doesn’t depend on the weather conditions and time of the year as hiking trails are. It can be visited all year round and is accessible for those with disabilities as well. The Visitor Centre was established in 2016 through the project 'Improvement of the conservation status of Piatra Craiului National Park’s biodiversity, through awareness, information, visitation and monitoring', financed from European Funds. Up until now, the visitor centre had over 27.860 visitors, including pupils who have participated to the educational programs and different delegations. The interior of the Visitor Centre forms a loop trail, which offers information on flora, fauna, geology, ridge and scree areas, caves, local communities and hiking/climbing trails within the Piatra Craiului National Park.

The exhibition area is realised in such a way that it can offer unique and emotional experiences to visitors. The interactive exhibition consists of text, pictures and videos, using LED displays and motion-sensing devices. These offer visitors a unique way to discover and learn about the Park’s specific elements. The information point mainly supports visitors, rangers and researchers who carry out field activities.

The Carpathian mountains have influenced Romanian landscapes, history and way of living. For the nature lovers, Romania has a lot to offer and it is probably the country with the most pristine, untouched areas in Europe. Policy support documents developed within the Centralparks project aim to support the advancement of sustainable rural tourism, integrating the protection of the incredible biodiversity of the Romanian Carpathians.

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European Academy of Bozen-Bolzano (Eurac Research)
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