An idea conceived by a group of friends over a round of beers in a Belgian pub 15 years ago is now getting serious traction throughout Western Europe as a model for land conservation. Its newest champion is tennis star Kim Clijsters, who is now an ambassador for one of Ignace Schops’ projects at Regionaal Landschap Kempen and Maasland (RLKM).
Schops created Belgium’s first and only national park, bringing unprecedented economic opportunity to a region that was reeling from a coal mine closures. He leveraged public and private funding to create a thriving wildlife habitat and a recreational hotspot that includes bike trails and “barefoot walks.”
The park is currently on the tentative list to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been visited by ministers and other government officials in Belgium. Schops is also hoping to take his conservation model to a broader region as he prepares to host the 2012 EUROPARC Conference this October.