Shar Mountain in North Macedonia boasts 200 plant species, 167 species of butterflies, 12 of amphibians, 18 of reptiles, 130 of birds, and 45 of mammals. Loggers and others have misused the area for decades. But now the idyllic Balkan locale will become one of Europe’s largest national parks.
A region with an ancient past, Macedonia is part of Southeast Europe’s Balkan Peninsula (aka “the Balkans”). Acts 16:9 tells of the Apostle Paul’s vision of a man who said, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Paul answered that call. He visited several Macedonian towns while establishing churches in the area. Today, Macedonia includes portions of six countries: Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Kosovo.
Shar Mountain spreads through Albania, North Macedonia, and Kosovo. The mountain is a trove of rare wildlife and natural beauty, including 37 glacial lakes.
Since 1993, authorities have worked to protect the North Macedonian side of Shar Mountain. But those 153,000 acres have suffered serious damage. Locals have farmed, hunted, and felled trees for fuel and timber. Decades of illegal logging have left erosion-scarred landscapes, especially in the more densely populated lower slopes.
In July, North Macedonian lawmakers passed a bill. They granted Shar Mountain the status of national park. The region is already protected on the Kosovo side of the border.
North Macedonia has incentive to conserve its side of Shar Mountain. Authorities want to join the European Union. To do so, nations must protect at least 12% of their territory. Adding Shar Mountain National Park will push North Macedonia over that threshold.
Conservation expert Anela Stavrevska-Panajotova says the country is witnessing “a historic opportunity . . . to have a new national park.” She says, “We will have the largest trans-boundary protected area in all of Europe. And we are very proud about it!”
Naser Xhemaili owns a mountain tourism company in North Macedonia. He expects many benefits from the national park title. “We await a lot from the national park: tourist arrivals into our cabins, sales of dairy products, which I believe will be much better and at a higher price,” he says. He’s also looking forward to better roads and other infrastructure perks like improved water and electricity service.
North Macedonia’s environment minister, Naser Nuredini, says designating the park will have long-term benefits. “This is going to have huge potential for future generations,” he says, “for the current generation as well, because now we can use a national resource in a sustainable way.”