Thinking of visiting Nature? Visit the Eco Park Tajan! (gallery)

[wzslider autoplay=”true”]Ten years ago, almost to the date, a group of young enthusiasts from Zavidovići started toying with the idea of protecting the natural gems of their region from the exploits of the forestry service and the energy lobby.

The park, which passed into official law in 2008 by the Zenica-Doboj Canton parliament, borders the municipalities of Zavidovići and Kakanj and is centered on Mount Tajan. This 1,297-meter mountain, just east of the Central Dinaric Alps spine that curves through the heart of this Balkan nation, is not as high or rugged as its neighbors. But what it lacks in altitude, it more than makes up for with its lush conifer forests, flourishing bio-diversity, and the most cave-rich, limestone formations in the greater region.

Tajan, although a secret to even those living nearby, has been well known since the Austro-Hungarian era. The Austrians, aware of the vast natural resources their newly annexed nation had, were quick to establish an infrastructure to exploit the high-grade hardwood found there. A small gauge railroad was built to access the rough, canyon-ridden terrain. Just before the Second World War the first mountain lodge was built for hikers and hunters alike. Though razed during the war, it was rebuilt and a new mountain hut was added in Kamenica, the heart of the today’s nature park.

During Yugoslavia’s major development rush in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1970s, research proved the hydrological importance of Tajan. The municipality of Zavidovići declared the area a water-protection zone. Shortly after, a youth research action brought young geologists, biologists, speleological, and forestry experts to the Mitrovića area of Tajan Mountain. From this action Atom was founded in 1982.

Though history repeats itself everywhere, it seems to do it with heightened effect in the Balkans. When war revisited Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 1990s, the mountain lodges were burned down again. Atom became a defunct organization left with only fond memories. In its place came massive exploitation of the forest resources, poaching of the abundant wildlife, and plans to build a long series of mini hydroelectric dams along the Gostović River. The now thirty-something war veterans decided something needed to be done. Their play became their work. Their work became obsession. And now they’ve got the whole town behind them.

Atom reestablished itself in 2004. Comprised of professionals, youth, hikers, cavers, fisherman, mountain rescuers, scientists – they were able to mobilize the entire community. They wasted no time taking on both the powerful logging and energy lobbies. They took their own lobby to Zavidovići mayor Izet Basić, who embraced the vision and made it his own. Atom now attacked on two fronts. One of the new Atom founders, Ado Bajraktarević, an engineer at BH Telecom remembers: “We knew we couldn’t beat the logging and energy lobbies at their own game. They had, and have, the money, power, and influence. Our strategy was to learn. We kept researching Tajan to prove its value as an important eco-system. We learned the laws and literally drafted the first set of legislation to declare Tajan as a natural monument. With our partners like the Embassy for Local Democracy and friends, we started writing proposals to donor agencies to improve the infrastructure and make the area nature both accessible and better known. In doing so, we won the broad support of the people. No lobby can beat that.”

But their fight didn’t go without hitches. The original park boundaries were eventually modified – twice – by the relentless energy and logging lobbies. In the end, Atom managed to protect 50 square kilometers of precious nature. Tajan Nature Park is home to over 25 European brown bears, 100 cave and karst springs, 60 kilometers of marked hiking trails, and an outdoor recreation center in the heart of its lush forest, for which future generations will be eternally grateful.

This newly added dimension of alternative and sustainable development has opened doors of thought for the entire country. It has also opened some hearts and minds in some unexpected places. The forestry service, now mandated to manage the park, has gladly opened their logging roads to mountain bikers. The management of the park falls under their jurisdiction and they are excited about their new role.

With the help of a newly funded EU tourism development program for Tajan Nature Park – it is now literally open for business. There are 25 weekend homes or B&Bs available for rent, a brand new set of mountain bikes are on stand-by for the hundred kilometers of well-marked trails, and it is the ONLY place in BiH where one can experience the rush of caving with a specialized guide and all the safety gear one could wish for. Even for novices, entering some of these caves is an unforgettable experience. Tajan is an exceptionally pleasant place for a relaxed weekend, with long walking trails through forest covered roads and good facilities for the kids, including several playgrounds, football, basketball and volleyball courts and all the space you could wish for.

Don’t be surprised when you find hunters armed with cameras and binoculars guiding wildlife enthusiasts and loggers wearing ranger uniforms helping with directions to the nearest mountain hut. It really did happen. Check it out for yourselves…

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