This is part of Shar Mountain in the northwest of North Macedonia. Now much of the area is protected in a vast park. (AP/Boris Grdanoski)

This is part of Shar Mountain in the northwest of North Macedonia. Now much of the area is protected in a vast park. (AP/Boris Grdanoski)

Poppies bloom on a hillside of Shar Mountain. The town of Tetovo is below. (AP/Boris Grdanoski)

Poppies bloom on a hillside of Shar Mountain. The town of Tetovo is below. (AP/Boris Grdanoski)

Dogs guard sheep in a pasture on Shar Mountain. The name of the breed is “Sharplaninec.” (AP/Boris Grdanoski)

Dogs guard sheep in a pasture on Shar Mountain. The name of the breed is “Sharplaninec.” (AP/Boris Grdanoski)

Anela Stavrevska-Panajotova presents a map of the new Shar Mountain National Park during a media briefing. (AP/Boris Grdanoski)

Anela Stavrevska-Panajotova presents a map of the new Shar Mountain National Park during a media briefing. (AP/Boris Grdanoski)

People take tours on horseback on Shar Mountain. (AP/Boris Grdanoski)

People take tours on horseback on Shar Mountain. (AP/Boris Grdanoski)

Finally a Park

Posted: September 1, 2021

Dozens of lakes glitter on a mountain range. They look like gray-green eyes scanning the skies. Welcome to Shar Mountain in North Macedonia. Wouldn’t this make a beautiful park?

It’s about to become one at last.

The Shar Mountain range is part of the Balkans—a mountainous region in Europe. What lives on Mount Shar? Two hundred plant species, 167 species of butterflies, 12 of amphibians, 18 of reptiles, 130 of birds, and 45 of mammals. For decades, people have used this fruitful land for logging, even though it was against the law. Others used it for free farming, hunting, and fuel. Erosion scars the landscape. Almost 100,000 acres have been lost to illegal logging alone.

North Macedonian authorities want to protect Mount Shar and its treasures. They will pass a law making over 150,000 acres of land into a park. The park will border other protected parks in Albania and Kosovo. That will create one huge protected area.

Protecting land benefits plants and animals . . . and people too. Naser Xhemaili owns a company that offers mountain tourism programs and horseback rides on Mount Shar. He hopes the new park will bring better roads to the area. “We await a lot from the national park,” he says. “Tourist arrivals into our cabins, sales of dairy products, which I believe will be much better and at a higher price.”

Naser Nuredini is North Macedonia’s environment minister. He says the park will help locals and visitors, now and in the future. “We are creating one of the largest protected areas in Europe,” he says. “We are talking about skiing in the winter, hiking and biking in the summer, tourism from across the world.”

It takes a lot of work to make a brand-new national park. The plan: Decide how much money to spend and how to spend it. Hire staff to run the park. Build hiking trails. Ready, set, go!