The Cinque Terre National Park — in Disarray
|Too tempting to stay clean, "protection" became a racket in Italy's Cinque Terre.|
By Rick Steves
Since its creation in 1999, the Cinque Terre National Marine Park has brought plenty of good things to the area: money (visitors pay about €5 a day to hike the trails), new regulations to protect wildlife, and improved walkways, trails, beaches, breakwaters, and docks. Travelers have been able to take advantage of park-sponsored information centers and even tiny folk museums.
The vision of the park was exciting: to have everyone thinking creatively about how to improve the area for the good of nature, the local communities, and their many visitors. The park administrators were well on their way to creating something truly unique in Europe. But, as so often happens in Italy, the men entrusted to lead were corrupted by power and money. Those working under them could see what was happening — but rather than try to stop the corruption, many of them scrambled to win their superiors' favor and get in on the easy money. The result is a vision in shambles and a park that's now in disarray.
The new park president, Franco Bonanini, was a powerful man — nicknamed The Pharaoh for his grandiose visions. He initially came across like a visionary committed to the region and its precious park. But with a group of local bureaucrats, including Riomaggiore's mayor, he created a medieval-style system of favorites and enemies. This cabal was focused more on preserving their power than improving the park. As they started and stopped construction projects, funneled money here and there, and extorted the locals, they derailed the park vision. In 2011 they were at last removed from power, but the damage had been done. Plans for future projects have been scuttled, and the improvements already in place or underway — the info offices, baggage deposits, mountain-bike opportunities, little museums, elevators for the infirm, and even maintenance of the trails — have been abandoned.
Today, the park is run by a man from the central government whose vision for a fix, it seems, is to run the park as a business. But a park is a park, not a business. Ironically — and sadly, for the residents — using the park to wring money out of visitors while giving little back is not good for the livelihoods of the region's hard-working residents. For the foreseeable future, no one knows exactly how the park will or will not be functioning. Thankfully, the villages and dramatic land between them are bigger than any corrupt, modern-day pharaoh.
What does all this mean to the visitor? Not much. The Cinque Terre is still my favorite stretch of Mediterranean coastline. The people are endearing. The food, culture, and nature are uniquely enjoyable. I just thrill at the thought of people working together for a grand and noble vision that helps a community's economy by wisely treating a park as a park, rather than making a park a business. And so far, the Cinque Terre has failed in that regard.