National park directors and non-governmental organization leaders from Kosovo and Montenegro visited Alden Library on Friday afternoon to share information about the potential lessons to be gained from the creation of an international peace park.
The park, which will potentially be located at the borders of Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo, would allow for a cross-cultural exchange that would promote collaborative natural resource management and eco-tourism. Under Geoff Dabelko, Director of Environmental Studies, students can traverse the Southern Alps and explore the cultural and ecological background of the Balkans through a summer study abroad program.
“Ohio University takes students to the Balkans for an environmental peacebuilding study abroad program where we learn so much from our partners tackling transboundary conservation and sustainability in a beautiful but challenged environment,” Dabelko said. “We are thrilled to be able to share some of the welcoming hospitality and learning opportunities as we host this group of Kosovo national park and environmental NGO during their U.S. study tour sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo.”
Dabelko said hosting the delegation at Ohio University was a good way to strengthen the relationship between OU and the Kosovo-based organizations.
“It is a fantastic opportunity to deepen the partnership through briefings and site visits to ongoing research projects such as the Nelsonville Bypass wildlife impact study, Crane Hollow Preserve and the Wayne National Forest,” Dabelko said. “One advantage of our study abroad program to the Balkans and events like this delegation visit is that it appeals to a wide range of majors and departments.”
The underlying goal of the Balkans project is to foster sustainability in economically challenged but biologically rich areas. The protected land formed by the borders of the three countries is one of the last remaining biodiversity hotspots in Europe and is home to violent conflict and tension between new nation states.
The International Peace Park Expeditions, the collaborative program offered through Ohio University, allows students and visitors to live with local peacebuilders in all three countries. The experience offers the perspective of “highlander mountain culture,” including traditional organic farming and cuisine, music and dance, and a rugged way of living.
The 12-person delegation, which included several members of Kosovo’s Environmentally Responsible Action group, also discussed developing transboundary ecotourism, fighting illegal logging and protecting traditional livelihoods.
Mary Caroline Tilton, a sophomore studying journalism, felt that the fact that Southeast Ohio has initiatives that draw attention from a delegation of international leaders says a lot about the strength of environmental commitment in the region.
“The people who came were the equivalent of America’s EPA head and national parks director,” Tilton said. “It was pretty incredible to be in the presence of people from across the world who are the actual leaders of a major environmental movement.”