Nominee – Fondation Grand Paradis
Giroparchi Nature Trail, organised by Fondation Gran Paradis, is a nature trekking activity project located in the heart of the Gran Paradiso National Park – the oldest of its kind in Italy – and open to teenagers between the ages of 11 and 14 from both the Aosta Valley region and all over the peninsula. In parallel with the trekking component, teenagers acquire tools to communicate about the potential of national parks, improve their vocabulary, learn English expressions and stimulate curiosity in natural resources. Since its establishment in 2013, each year has been dedicated to a new theme. The project was also nominated for the MPA in 2017.
Vision, goals and objectives
The goal of Giroparchi Nature Trail is to allow new generations to acquire full appreciation and awareness of the exceptional beauty of the natural heritage that characterizes the mountains. While doing so youngsters are taught about the biodiversity of the Alps and become aware about the importance of building a sustainable tourism approach by respecting the flora and fauna. At the same time, during the trekking activity, teenagers acquire tools to communicate about the potential of the parks, improve their vocabulary, learn English expressions and stimulate curiosity in natural resources. Giroparchi Nature Trail is a nature trekking project in the heart of the Gran Paradiso National Park – the oldest park in Italy – addressed to teenagers between 11 and 14 years old mainly from the Aosta Valley region but also from all over Italy. Two groups of teenagers spend five days each hiking on the historical paths of the Park guided by two professional English native speakers (a hiking guide and a language teacher) and by a Fondation Grand Paradis employee who speaks English.
During trekking all activities and games are in English in order to allow the teenagers to acquire skills and knowledge in a funny way. The participants hike along historical Alpine trails, which were tracked by the Royal Park guards in the 17th century, and spend the night in local Alpine shelters based in the Gran Paradiso National Park. They are given the opportunity to meet local people as well as international trekkers. The lowest point of departure is usually around 1600m and the maximum altitude around 2600m, with amazing views on glaciers, peaks, screes, waterfalls, lakes and mines.
Each year this experience takes place in the Gran Paradiso valleys, but every year the route changes to provide new knowledge and different landscape. Furthermore, every year the trekking has a different topic: e.g. to discover the five senses in nature, mines, geology; to learn about wildlife fauna; to focus on the history of the connecting paths used by King Vittorio Emanuele II during his hunting journeys in the area. Trekking routes are chosen by taking into consideration the annual topic and in the everyday trekking experience there will be an in-depth focus on flora and fauna observation, landscape and environment, historical events, cultural and natural heritage.
Expected implementation and outcomes
The outdoor and cultural activities are both based on the annual topic, designed to make the kids aware of the beauty of the mountain territories where they live and focused on learning English in a different and fun way, improving listening, comprehension and speaking skills of the participants. The trekking plan and programmes are defined in winter, while activities are held during summer, to match the best weather conditions, the closure of the schools and the touristic events and holiday periods in the Gran Paradiso valley. Since many families ask for their kids to join the initiative, two rounds of the trekking are organised, also thanks to the support of the partner Gran Paradiso National Park, who finances half of the project. For this reason, the participant fees could be quite cheap, making the initiative very competitive in Aosta valley.
In order to offer a wide range of experiences, three guides are involved to give a contribution in a different and complimentary way: a hiking guide, whose main responsibility is to lead the group along the paths, an English teacher and a Fondation Grand Paradis employee. All the guides speak English and will encourage the teenagers to do the same. Alpine shelters are then contacted to make the reservation and, as soon as the plan is confirmed, the application form is open. Giroparchi Nature Trail is promoted in schools primarily, with posters and brochures with all the information, then through media and local and national press offices. In addition, news and posts are published on the website and social media. Ahead of departure, all families convene to learn about the project, paths, learning activities and accommodation sites in details.
The trekking then starts. One of the many positive impacts of the project is how youngsters become ambassadors for the mountains. It is common that attendees, after the positive experience of the trip, seek to spread their newfound passion and knowledge returning to mountain paths with their families, relatives and friends. Alongside trekking, sharing beautiful and wild experiences, the teenagers learn to exercise their body, strengthen themselves, their self-confidence, but also making long-lasting friendships, for a better physical and mental health. In addition to this, they learn the respect for the nature and its fragile balance and enhance the awareness of the natural beauty of the Gran Paradiso National Park, with all its glaciers, lakes, wild peaks and beautiful panoramas.
Climbing, mountaineering or outdoor sport focus
The outdoor approach provides a variety of benefits, not only physically but also mentally. Potentially, the trekking could encourage a more active lifestyle. Teenagers will also have the opportunity to bond and create long-standing friendships, leading a better mental health. In some of the editions, depending on the location and the planned trail and the offer of the Alpine shelters, the participants had the opportunity to practice particular mountain sports including climbing with an Alpine guide. The climbing experience challenged their mind and body, trained the balance, flexibility and mental approach to solving problems. Such experiences were carried out in the 2020 edition in Rhêmes-Notre-Dame.
In addition to this, during trekking, education and awareness raising components are accompanied by conservation, climate change mitigation and biodiversity preservation activities like cleaning of mountain trails, improving the monitoring of park biodiversity through the program “GPNP citizen science”, cleaning of Gran Paradiso glaciers environment, etc. Consequently, the outdoor is not only the backdrop of Giroparchi Nature Trail, it is the field where the kids can live the experience, the key player around which cultural activities are built, the main character for creating awareness on the fragile natural heritage, the protagonist of workshops designed to deep the knowledge about flora and fauna.
Best practice in mountaineering and mountain-based sports for mountain protection
Fondation Grand Paradis chose to promote tourism and knowhow by investing time and resources in the next generation, giving them the opportunity to spend time in the mountains, to deep their knowledge of the territory and to be in contact with local communities and with who works every day to preserve nature and culture. The organisers believe that only by experiencing the mountain philosophy it is possible to fully understand both the difficulties and the incredible beauty of the Alps. Walking for five days in nature can be a good example for teenagers involved in the Giroparchi Nature Trail. Many trails have been organized to promote the local territory but the innovation of this project is the combination of learning a new language and being in contact with nature.
Studying English outside the classroom in a real context will lead the participants to live an unforgettable experience by making the learning process easier and quicker. The aim is to train future generations with content and experiences, to widen their knowledge and to allow them not to leave the territory by creating new jobs. English is a global language, so being able to share the local natural and cultural heritage worldwide with this common language will allow to create a balance between the permanent communities and the need to continuous renovate and innovate in the future and at an international level as well.
That is why sharing the concepts of biodiversity conservation, sustainable resource, sustainable waste management, climate change effects, the environment protection through culture and education, nature protection, sustainable tourism and respect of local traditions during this experience are benefits for all participants. The binomial “knowledge of the territory” and “language skill” represents a key resource for the future of young generations in an area devoted to sustainable and slow tourism. This project aims at enhancing the natural and cultural peculiarities of the Aosta Valley side of the Gran Paradiso spreading the knowledge on the old royal trails network and mule paths once used by King Victor Emmanuel II and on the natural heritage of the Park. It is important that the young generations learn the features, history and heritage of the National Park and the territory where they live because it is a valuable resource which needs to be protected and promoted.
To discover more about the UIAA Mountain Protection Award please click here.
Please note that the content published in this article is courtesy of the Award nominee. The UIAA has made minor revisions to the original submission.