River Canyons, Mountain Forests
The proposed heritage park will also encompass scenic and natural resources of the region.
These include the mature oak forests that occur along the upper course of the Neda River. The slopes of Mt. Minthi and western Mt. Tetrazio that overlook the lower course of the Neda River have extensive Aleppo pine forests. On the southern side, these forests are dense and lush, while on the northern side, they occur only on steep slopes and in valleys. In other areas, they have been cleared for olive groves and agricultural terracing.
Oak and chestnut trees grow in the upper regions, along the Neda River. Dense oak forests also thrive in protected valleys such as Ampeliona, Agios Sostis, and Petra. Chestnut trees flourish among the oaks and sporadically grow in unmixed stands. Chestnuts are a traditional product of surrounding villages.
The Source of the Neda River
The Neda has always formed a natural boundary between Messenia and Elis. The waters of the Neda begin their journey within the proposed heritage park from the numerous springs at the foot of Mt. Lykaion, near the village of Petra, meeting with streams and tributaries from the nearby mountains. The stream follows a meandering course, 32 kilometers in length, through narrow gorges, clearings, and verdant ravines. In the summer when the waters are low, visitors can walk the length of the Neda to the sea. The route is punctuated with stone bridges, dark caves and bright waterfalls all the way to the fertile meadows of the Kyparissia Gulf. The pure headwaters of the Neda and 15 km of its course are located within the proposed heritage park.
Alpheios River and Megalopolis
The Alpheios River is the largest in the Peloponnesos, and its watershed measures 3,700km², almost one fifth of the Peloponnesos peninsula. The Alpheios River can be divided into three sections—the upper Alpheios (from the sources of the stream to Megalopolis), the middle Alpheios (the gorge region at the border of the provinces of Elis and Arcadia) and the lower Alpheios (the plains in Elis). Unlike most other rivers in the Peloponnesos, the Alpheios is a river with a gentle flow that is usually full of water and has at least two different branches, framed by thick willow forests. This gentle flowing river has the potential to become a great tourist attraction and, do to its ease of navigation, could be designated as a river trail, with Megalopolis serving a river recreational hub along its route.
Yet another bold expression of nature is the geology. Just like the history and culture of the region, the mountains of Arcadia reflect both the old and the new. The mountains of the region were formed in an ancient ocean predating the Mediterranean, 175 to 50 million years ago. Tectonic lifting of the seafloor to present heights required profound fault thrusting, which literally stacked 1000m-thick sequences of beds on top of one another.
Erosion by rivers and streams through the geology of this region has been sharply influenced by fault patterns, and variations in soil types and agricultural fertility likely follow underlying geologic patterns. Springs emanate from the fault zones, for faults are natural ‘plumbing systems’ that conduct water through the broken and sheared rocks. Mountain villages were typically established at spring sites.
In contrast to earlier mountain-building, the Peloponnesos today is being stretched apart, in the same way that the Gulf of Corinth, more conspicuously, represents a stretching of Greece. The Sanctuary of Zeus at Mt. Lykaion is located within a swarm of active faults, with expressions of ground shifting and breaking that are quite evident in the landscape.
An Example of a Timely Practical Benefit
One of the benefits of the proposed heritage park should be a sharper focus on the ancient and modern roles fire has played—and continues to play—in the landscape. The conservation of this special landscape requires building understanding of and capacity to cope with fire threats to the archaeological sites, natural landscapes, and villages.
The threats posed by the August 2007 fires to areas within the proposed heritage park bear witness the magnitude of risk that may be involved. In the western Peloponnesos alone, 43 people died and thousands of hectares were consumed by fire—including 60,000 acres in Ancient Olympia. In the municipality of Zaharo, all 19 villages experienced fire and 500 structures were lost.
The Heritage Park, lying near these locations, affords a unique opportunity for enhancing public understanding of the roles played by fire in Greek history and contemporary experience. At the same time, the heritage park presents opportunities for introducing infrastructure improvements designed to improve fire prevention and fire fighting efforts. Services that the Heritage Park might provide include educational exhibits designed to enhance understanding about both the destructive and beneficial aspects of fire, to improve understanding of local fire risk, and to encourage behaviors that reduce the likelihood of uncontrolled fires occurring. As analyses of the 2007 fires revealed, lack of village-level plans for what to do in case of fire can lead to tragic outcomes. A community center providing residents with a place to gather could provide a forum for discussing strategies for reducing fire risk and coping with fire events. The heritage park could also become a model for best practices in the design and provision of fire prevention and fire fighting equipment and resources.