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Recreation, education and wellbeing: The community-led Nature Park in Feldkirch, Austria

Change management

On 17 Julie 1963, Felix, a steinbock (or Alpine ibex), a species of wild goat  in the mountains of the European Alps, was brought to the Nature Park. Other animals were added afterwards. The Feldkirch Nature Park was born.

The key drivers of this initiative were three people – the former mayor of the local authority of Feldkirch, the forester of the district and a businessman who shared a love for animals and had the idea to found a Nature Park in Feldkirch. They decided to found an association (in German ‘eingetragener Verein’) and managed to transfer a piece of land from the local authority to the new association through a lease contract. They also mobilised volunteers and sponsors to allow them to buy animals.

Today the Nature Park includes 18 fenced-off animal runs, over an area of about 110,000 square metres.  It provides for visitors a restaurant, a playground, nature trails, a public barbecue area, hiking paths and a pond. Entrance to the park is free all 365 days of the year.

The Nature Park is strongly committed to the concept of co-production, with professionals and volunteers working hand in hand. One manager and two staff members take care of the day-to-day operation of the Nature Park and the animals, so that it can open 365 days per year. However, volunteers from the board members of the Feldkirch Nature Park Association are responsible for the strategic direction of the Nature Park, its management, and finding sustainable funding. The Nature Park further benefits from volunteers coming from local companies and other local associations - for example, Lech, a ski lift company, provides a team of specialists who each work in the Park one day per year.

Feldkirch Nature Park is strongly committed to social inclusion. It works in partnership with a third sector organisation from the region, Lebenshilfe Vorarlberg (Living Support in Vorarlberg Region)  and has particularly focused on creating  catering jobs in the Park for people with disabilities, which is very much appreciated by Park visitors. At present, three people with disabilities take care of the catering in the Nature Park.

Model of co-production and partnership working

Animals

There are now 18 animals living in the nature park, each in their own fenced-off animal run, including (among others) red deer, wild boar, wolves, foxes, goats, marmots, raccoons, blue hares, eagles and eagle owls.

Not all the animals are local, as was originally intended. For example, the raccoon is from America. However, sometimes the Nature Park takes over animals from zoos which are no longer able to keep them. It also sometimes serves as a ‘hospital’ for animals that need special care - for example, two eagles have now been given a home, after being found injured, since they could not have survived free in nature.

Visitors

The Nature Park now has about 150,000 visitors per year. Most visitors greatly appreciate the Park and value their visits, whether for education or leisure purposes. Consequently, the Nature Park has become an important local recreation facility in the local authority of Feldkirch and an important tourist destination in the region of Vorarlberg. The largest group of visitors is made up of children visiting the Park in a school or Kindergarten excursion – consequently, the Nature Park has become an important education centre.

Education

The idea of the Nature Park is not to educate visitors through giving them lots of abstract and theoretical information but rather to enable them to learn in and from nature. The wide range of animals and the diversity of nature on the side of the mountain where the Nature Park is located makes it ideal for ‘open space learning‘. The impressive number of visitors shows that this model for packaging learning is attractive.  Visitors include many families and children of different ages who like to explore the Nature Park by themselves or with the support of their parents, staff and guides. Visitors also include students from universities who use the Park for research purposes. The extensive use and popularity of the Park is promoted by keeping access free-of-charge and barrier-free during the whole year. Moreover, most visitors appreciate the way that the Park is managed to preserve  its ‘wilderness’ quality, by only intervening in nature when this is necessary for the benefit of animals and visitors.

Nature trails

Another new feature of the Nature Park is the set of nature trails, which was designed by the local authority of Feldkirch in 1997. More than 70 interesting boards inform the visitors about the flora and fauna in the park. There is also information about the local climate and soil and descriptions of historic buildings in Feldkirch which may be seen from specific locations.

School competition

To increase further the attractiveness of the Nature Park as an educational institution, it started to organise games at the beginning of July each year, before the school summer break. Now 20 school classes, with about 440 pupils from all over Austria, are challenged to demonstrate their knowledge on nature topics, such as identifying tree leaves to understanding the relationship of animals to  the overall ecological system. Furthermore, the young people need to show their agility, speed and creativity on the nature trails in the woods. The competition aims to raise the awareness and knowledge of school children about nature. It is organised by a partnership of the Nature Park Association, the government of the region of Vorarlberg, the Foresters’ Club in Vorarlberg, and the local authority of Feldkirch.

About this case study
Main Contact

Dr. Wolfgang Burtscher
President
Phone +43 5522 76067
wolfgang.burtscher@icloud.com

Christian Ammann
Manager
Phone +43 5522 74105,
wildpark.feldkirch@aon.at

Martin Duelli MEd
Secretary
Phone +43 5522 39198
martin.duelli@gmail.com

Martin Duelli and 
Dr. Johannes Hertnagel wrote this case study in October 2014.

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