A Balkans Peace Park Project is working towards the creation of a park extending across the borders of Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo and has taken a lead in recent years in encouraging sustainable and ecologically sensitive tourism in and around Theth (for example by funding the marking of footpaths). The Balkan Peace Project is an international charity which aims to connect the adjoining areas of Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania which all lie on the single mountain range of Bjeshkët e Nemuna, the Accursed Mountains.
The Balkan Peace Project works with local population to revitalize the village life in the Shala Valley through promoting the environmental and biodiversity conservation, stimulating local employment and supporting sustainable visitor activities including hiking, biking, climbing and caving.
Antonia Young, a British citizen and President of The BPPP and Walter Todd, an American citizen are two people to thank for this project. These two foreign nationals have taken an interest in the nature of the village, the culture, and the architectural values of the houses in Theth more than any ministers of Culture and Tourism of Albania since 1990. They have arranged for the children of Theth to learn English through summer schools that are organized every year in Theth. Through these projects the residents are presented in domestic and global tourism. Antonia Young has visited Theth, spending the whole month of July there in 2005. There she visited every family to explain the tourist opportunities to them. There are many organized tourist guides and university students studying nature. Todd has been to Theth as representative of the Peace Park Project. In the first year Theth Summer School has run some very important projects. With the support of foreign donors he has led and invested in the construction of the bridge over the Grunas canyon, and the wooden roof of Kolajve mill. Todd has led the project during his year in Theth and has visited all the families of the village, offering a big help to the workers and residents.
Supporting the development of a truly international cross border peace park on the borders of Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro GTZ hopes the Balkan Peace Park will act as a symbol of peace and cooperation, will promote environmental conservation, will stimulate sustainable development, will promote eco-tourism. Personal contacts over a period of more than 15 years have been set with individuals, civil society, NGOs and local authorities, government officials, international bodies.
The fantastic nature and landscapes offer great potential for people who want to explore pristine and undiscovered regions. To raise the attractiveness of the village and the accessibility of the surrounding nature GTZ supports the identification and labeling of walking tracks and climbing routes. Just recently several walking tracks and trails were identified and partly marked. A new map covering the region of Theth and Kelmend (Tamara, Vermosh) gives information about 18 hiking tracks or trails (eight in Theth, eight in Kelmend and two cross-regional tracks). A new walking guide provides detailed information including GPS data.
BPPP aim is the development of mountain tourism in the border triangle of Albania Kosovo and Montenegro based on the experience of the increasing of mountain tourism in Theth. The project will develop the basic infrastructure of tourism in these three countries. The population in mountain areas is the poorest of the three countries. Mountain tourism destinations of the Bjeshkët e Namuna, The Accursed Mountains, offer great touristic potential. Pristine nature, massive mountains that reach up to 2692 m of altitude, biological diversity, the traditional living style of residents still represent a treasure box waiting to be opened and explored. Because of the lacks in the infrastructure the promotion of specific countries as warm and cozy destinations has a limited potential. The promotion of the entire region will attract more tourists. The objective of BPPP is to improve the conditions for the development of the border triangle between Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro as a single tourist destination. This will result in an increased income for local population and the prevention of rural depopulation.
The product of the relationship between border areas will be a central cross-border road for excursions, which is being created jointly. There are only two official border crossing points in the project area: a border point in the mountainous area between Montenegro and Kosovo and another between Montenegro and Albania. An official route between neighboring villages in the three countries in many cases runs 5 to 10 hours by car. The project will guarantee several crossing points for hiking in addition to the existing official border crossing points. This will increase the opportunities for crossing the borders along the mountains.
Historical routes are possible links between communities. An example of these historical routes is the track Pec-Milesevski-Plav-Gusinje-Vusanje-Theth-Ragram-Valbona-Cerem-Doberdol-Koznar-Peja. The track can be traversed in 10 days, which fits with the average travel time of an international tourist. Some sites offer the possibility to rest, exploiting the opportunity for cultural tourism. It is possible to shorten or extend the route. In total it is 130 km, but with a difference of 650 m in altitude. A high level of physical condition of the excursionist is required.
Another objective of the project is the introduction of European standards in tourism SMEs, improving the quality of tourism SMEs in the area, thus increasing competitive capacity. This change will be realized putting together the minimum European standards accessible and feasible for local participating actors. For the inclusion of the best practices and the implementation of the standards established, voluntary training seminars will follow.
Creating a security concept in the mountains is another objective of the project. Ensuring the safety of hiking at the base of medical care and opportunities for mountain rescue teams are currently at a very initial phase. Accidents due to insufficient safety and the lack of rescue teams could damage significantly the image of the park. The security criteria can be implemented by experienced medical assistants. Local medical staff specialized in hiking and mountain accidents initially must be supported by experts from other mountainous areas of Europe in facing the emergencies.
The BPPP aims to the promotion of the area as a tourist destination, creating a brand and introducing it to the international market. Theth already has become a magnet for European tourists. GTZ is considering how to develop the Albanian mountain adventure, financing home repairs and the construction of tourist infrastructure in Valbona, at the other side of the Alps, enabling tourists to travel across the Alps to the Adriatic sea or in Kukës and in Kosovo. But the goal seems more to contemplate the development of winter sports. The area can turn into a tourist destination for skiing and other sports, but such plans must wait for some other time due to their costs.