ASTANA – The Katon-Karagai State National Natural Park, one of the largest in Kazakhstan, opened an upgraded tourist route Orman Zholdary (Forest Route), in the East Kazakhstan Region on July 21 with the support of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), reported the UNDP Kazakhstan.
The route’s concept is based on the idea that each visitor is a guest of the forest, which is a multifaceted living mechanism with history, rules, and philosophy of existence. It shares a formula of a harmonious life applicable to humans.
Kazakhstan has recently sparked significant interest in domestic tourism, particularly with national parks that play a vital role in developing environmental tourism.
According to the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources, about two million tourists visited 14 national parks in Kazakhstan last year, a 25% increase compared to 2021.
The Katon-Karagai National Park, which joined the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Network of Biosphere Reserves in 2017, covers an area of 643,477 hectares, with ten tourist routes and four paths with a total length of over 680 kilometers. In 2022, over 7,000 people visited the national park.
Kairat Meirembekov, the head of the East Kazakhstan regional territorial forestry and wildlife inspectorate, informed that 1.6 million hectares out of 2.9 million is covered with a forest of exuberant coniferous and deciduous trees, a habitat of thousands of plants and animals, which are crucial in regulating the climate and water.
“Considering that the climate is becoming drier every year, our primary task is to protect the Altai mountain forests,” he said.
Meirembekov noted that developing environmental routes provide safe paths for visitors to the unique corners of nature at the national park without harming flora and fauna.
It takes about one or two days on foot and horseback to cover the more than 20 kilometers-long route. It contains art objects, five local information boards, navigation signs and stands with information about the park’s biological diversity.
The UNDP has supported Kazakhstan for many years in developing environmental tourism as one of the measures to preserve biodiversity and sustainable progress of the country’s regions. Upgraded tourist routes and paths in natural territories increase travelers’ safety and enable evenly distributed recreational loads.
Over the past 14 years, the UNDP helped to create eight new protected areas and expand the area of three existing ones, focusing on strengthening material and technical equipment and training employees.
Within the UNDP project, implemented in partnership with the Kazakh government and funded by the Global Environment Facility, the Katon-Karagai National Park was supplied with high cross-country vehicles, radio equipment, a small forest fire complex, a quadcopter, a camera and camera traps, which are necessary for observing snow leopards and other animals.
Three sets of two-kilowatt windbreaks were installed as part of the project, which supplied the park’s remote cordons with electricity and communication. They improved the living conditions of the inspection staff.
Employees of the Katon-Karagay National Park regularly participate in seminars on sustainable management of protected areas, monitoring of biodiversity, forest fires, and other training.
One of the fundamental principles of environmental tourism is the socio-economic participation of residents and their benefits from this activity. This has resulted in a program of additional ecological education in secondary schools, as well as engagement with the local population and entrepreneurs, who receive support for developing sustainable businesses.