In early 2006, Belgium opened its first national park, thanks to the hard work of 2008 Goldman Prize recipient Ignace Schops. For several years, Schops and the team at Regionaal Landschap Kempen and Maasland (RLKM) - a nature conservation NGO that he directs- lobbied local and regional governments, NGOs, industries and citizens to help secure the funding needed to open Hoge Kempen.
Schops successfully raised over $90 million for the park and convinced the government to let RLKM oversee its daily operations. Today, the park contains over 6,000 hectares and attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year- generating revenue for the government and providing hundreds of local jobs.
While attending the Europarc 2012 Conference last month- which was hosted by Schops and RLKM in Belgium- Lorrae Rominger (Interim Executive Director of the Goldman Prize) had the opportunity to visit Hoge Kempen. The stunning photos from her visit are displayed below and show that the park is thriving.
Visitors continue to enjoy new hiking and cycling trails, incredible views and other recreational activities. One of the most beloved attractions at Hoge Kempen is the barefoot trail, which invites walkers to re-connect with nature by trekking through puddles, mud, dirt and grass with only their bare feet!