Hoge Kempen: the economic success story reconnecting locals with nature

Clara Gámez

Hoge Kempen, Belgium, May 29 (EFE).- The Hoge Kempen national park in northeastern Belgium, where a Belgian right-wing extremist soldier fleeing an international search and capture operation could be hiding, is considered the pearl of Flanders.

The park made the news beyond Belgian borders because police and the military were combing the area in search of Jürgen Conings, who has been on the run since May 17, heavily armed and considered a “terrorist threat”.

But locally, Hoge Kempen is known as an economic and environmental success that has “reconnected people with nature” and whose formula other regions are trying to replicate.

The Ministers of the Environment, Céline Tellier, and of Tourism, Valérie de Bue, for the French-speaking region of Wallonia, visited the park’s director, Ignace Schops, a few months ago to follow in the footsteps of a project that has brought significant economic benefits to the local community.

Wallonia wants to replicate the plan in its region with two nature parks, while Flanders plans to create three more in the coming years. Belgium will thus have a total of five parks, close to the European average.

Schops, who is also the president of the Europarc federation, the largest natural heritage network in Europe, suggested to the ministers that they should opt for the creation of nature reserves because, “in addition to contributing to the preservation of nature, it brings profits to the regions,” he tells Efe.

Hoge Kempen creates 5,000 jobs and raises 191 million euros a year and, according to its director, “the money made in this national park stays in the local communities”.

Inaugurated 15 years ago, the services provided by the park go beyond tourism and do not lose sight of carbon sequestration, drinking water management and the construction of establishments in the surrounding area, which also bring other benefits.

“The history of the park tells us something interesting: if you invest in wildlife, you also invest in the socioeconomic system of a region,” the Belgian environmentalist says. “The money that is made in this national park stays local.”

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