Natural highs - Kamchatka's world of wonders
It is difficult to deny the lure of the place. With mountains and snow-capped volcanoes, 80 hot springs spread over a 70-kilometre valley, untouched forests of stone and Kamchatka white birch, tundra, wetlands and black-sand beaches, Nalychevo is a slice of nature that, once you've seen it, is pretty hard to leave.
Thanks to the foresight of a few locals, the intoxicating Nalychevo Nature Park is now open to tourists. They come to climb mountains, and the more adventurous can try the volcanoes. They can take it easy swimming in the pools of hot springs or perhaps get a glimpse of the charismatic and apparently peaceful brown bears.
This opportunity was made available after the local club of climbers and travelers heard that the land might become private property. "We made a list of signatures - 1,300 in total - which we presented to the then-Governor Birikov asking him to set this land aside for nature. And based on this he decided to establish a Nature Park," says Romensky.
After this, WWF funded infrastructure to enable the Park to be used by tourists. Tourist levies from the Park then go to the Parks Department to help support protected areas in Kamchatka.
A team of volunteers such as Romensky built trails, houses, toilets and an ecological education centre. WWF also supports maintaining the environment despite an influx of around a thousand tourists a year. "Garbage is put in a big packet and carried to the city by helicopter. When people come we tell them to take their garbage back and the tour companies are responsible for the waste of their clients. The toilets were rebuilt and the new ones are cleared each year," explains Romensky.
While many tourists who come to Nalychevo are international, local Parks staff also sought to encourage residents to visit the Park, which is a 20-minute helicopter ride from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. For instance, WWF funded a film on the local flora and fauna in the park for use in schools and libraries. "Most people in Kamchatka know very little about the environment," explains ranger Irina Kruglyakova using her fingers to make a pinching motion, "little, little". A guide, Egor Afanas'yev agrees and mimics his friends' responses to his talk about the Park: "Nalychevo? Where is Nalychevo, they ask me. Many people spend their lives in the capital Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and don't see any of this."
Education of locals about the rules regarding the Park is also an ongoing project for parks staff and WWF. Poaching of animals and salmon is still common and, with only four rangers spread over the 309,320-hectare park, difficult to control. "Tourists are a help as when there are tourists around hunters are less likely to come into these areas," says Kruglyakova waving at a salmon-filled river in a valley where brown bears are known to be found.
Taken for trophies or their gallbladder, used in Asian medicines, brown bears are one of the key targets for illegal wildlife poachers. The other is the brown bear's foodsource - the salmon. Afanas'yev comments: "The problem is not locals who come and take one or two salmon. The problem is people who catch salmon for sale." Kruglyakova agrees: "They take only the caviar and leave the dead fish behind. You see dead fish lying on the ground where the poachers have been. They do it because it's easy to sell and prices for caviar are expensive." One part of the management plan is to cut off a road into the Park, and so limit access to the Park for poachers.
Other possibilities for the Park being proposed by a club of Nalychevo-addicts in Petropavolosk-Kamchatsky include more houses for tourists, upgrading some older facilities, establishment of an indigenous village for reviving traditions of Kamchatka's indigenous peoples and creating new hiking tracks.
One of the tracks built when the Park was established leads through the forest, up a dry riverbed to a rocky open clearing covered in deep-green dwarf pine. Here you are as close to the top of Nalychevo as you can manage without the help of an ice pick. On one side stretches the higher Koryaksky peak accompanied by a smoking Avacha volcano and the twin-like Arik and Aargh volcanoes on the other. Turn 180 degrees and there is another magnificent vista - a cluster of peaks in a ring known as "the tulip", Panda crater and Peak WWF, named in thanks for the conservation organization's work to establish the Park.
Just near this spot we get a glimpse of a baby brown bear. How did he get to this high-altitude, remote spot? Well it was a joint effort, says Romensky: "The bears created the trails along the rivers and mountains we use now for access around the park. But when the Park began we improved and developed these trails, making them safer and building bridges across the streams. I think now we have returned the bears' favour. We see bears using our trails - they especially appreciate the bridges!"
Information about eco tours to Nalychevo Nature Park can be found via PARK Travel Company, email: email@example.com.
*Anouk Ride is a freelance journalist commissioned by the WWF Forests for Life Programme.