Today is a day when the collective dream of many passionate river lovers came true. The biggest European free flowing river – the Vjosa – became protected as a Wild River National Park.
We are happy we were an active part of this process for 3 years and it is humbling to look back to 2016, when the first Balkan Rivers Tour happened. The tour was pulled out of thin air and came from a pure desire to help the cause that was already running and give it a push by the outdoor sports community. The final event of this unbelievable 40-day long journey happened in Tirana, in front of Albanian Prime Minister’s residence, Edi Rama. Rok wanted to hand him over his kayak, covered with signatures in support of a wild Vjosa. Instead of showing up to get the kayak, he sent the police to welcome us and in this way expressed how much he wanted to cooperate.
But this didn’t get anyone down. To the contrary, EcoAlbania, Save the Blue Heart of Europe and Patagonia decided to fight even harder and for us this gesture meant that our job was not done either. The Balkan Rivers Tour – which was meant to be a one time event – then evolved into an initiative that is still alive and kicking today.
This is a proof that small things can become very big. If Ulli hadn’t discovered the destructive plans to dam this river and if he hadn’t had the belief that it could be stopped, we wouldn’t have gone and paddle Vjosa in 2015, we wouldn’t have fallen in love with it and we wouldn’t have had the chance to team up with many environmental organizations fighting the legal battle for the river and organize a tour that brought the topic to the news and everyday people.
Now, 7 crazy years later, it is great to look at what was achieved as a result of cooperation, passion, determination and stubborness. The latter sure caused some problems at the wrong places along the way, but in the end we all figured things out and did what was best for this stunning river.
Hats off to Ulrich Eichelman, Riverwatch, Save the Blue Heart of Europe, EuroNatur and others doing all the hard legal work and negotiations. Hats off to the locals Besjana Guri and Olsi Nika who dedicated their lives to the cause. Thanks to Mihela Hladin and Patagonia for believing a bunch of dirtbag Slovenian kayakers that this is cause worth getting involved in and then, years later, convincing this same Edi Rama who didn’t accept the kayak, to come to Tepelene and sign the documents with Ryan Gellert making this the first Wild River National park in Europe – Vjosa – Park Kombëtar.