Hoge Kempen National Park, Belgium
Opened in 2006, the Hoge Kempen National Park is Belgium's only national park. It is part of six local communities in the Province of Limburg and the ‘flagship’ of the Regional Landscape Kempen and Maasland, one of the most important regions for nature conservation in Flanders. The Hoge Kempen park lies in northeastern Belgium, on a small plateau above criss-crossing motorways and cooling towers, in an area that is home to six million people. Previously a mining area, the national park has helped to regenerate the local economy by providing 400 jobs.
The projected economic revenue generated by the national park after operating for five years is US$ 48 million per year. The park's founder, Ignace Schops, broke new ground by convincing politicians, after years of lobbying, that his project should qualify for economic regeneration grants, and not just conservation funds which tend to be much smaller.
The public properties in the park and its surroundings are managed by the Agency of the Flemish government (Agentschap voor Natuur en Bos). Visitor centres and recreational infrastructure are managed by local communities. Coordination of all parties dealing with ecological, recreational, touristic, heritage, communication, promotional and economic aspects of the national park is carried out by the non-governmental organisation ‘Regionaal Landschap Kempen en Maasland’.
View slideshow of the park
Size: 5,700 ha
Flora and fauna
This is the largest woodland and nature reserve in Flanders. Extensive pinewoods alternate with purple flowering heath land. Hoge Kempen is home to 6,000 species of flora and fauna including endangered nightjar birds, smooth snakes, grasshoppers, swallowtail butterflies, “ant lions” and the “bee wolf” and several species of plants. Large stones and pebbles are visible testimony to the last ice age and create a mystic atmosphere.
Non-sustainable forms of tourism and pressures from an increasing amount of people looking for a quiet place to hike, cycle and so on, are significant threats: the innovative concept of ‘Gateways’ (visitors are encouraged to enter the area through one of five gateways) and a smart zoning concept help to tackle this problem. Moreover ‘tourism’ stakeholders are involved in the project structure to guarantee sustainable tourism development. Changing a threat into an opportunity for both ecological restoration and economic growth is one of the unique features of this project.