Former and operating mining sites and their benefits for local communities: Examples from the Czech Republic

One of the key challenges for the mining industry in the Czech Republic is to show to the general public that places with mining history have a wide range of applications and are not  a negative factor in the development of the area. With appropriate regional management, a place previously described   with negative connotations (mostly by local inhabitants) can be transformed into a geologically or biologically interesting site beneficial for the region as one of the centers of tourism. The Czech Republic has a great potential in tourism and mainly thanks to its historical monuments, it belongs among very popular destinations in Europe. However, its potential for the development of tourism associated with the mining industry or geology still remains, untapped.

The viability of sites with geological and mining history in promoting tourism at a national level in the Czech Republic – creation of geoparks

If we look at the potential of the Czech Republic associated with geology and geomorphology, we can see that currently, one of the most important projects is the support of a system of geoparks in the Czech Republic. It is a concept that goes beyond local communities, but it involves their cooperation (it often starts as an initiative of several connected communities), and is implemented as a regional or national project (the evolving project is managed under the auspices of the Czech Geological Service in an effort to support development of geologically interesting sites in the Czech Republic). The term geopark refers to an area that provides a picture of geological development of the Earth and demonstrates the influence the local natural wealth has on economic and cultural development of the society. A geopark is designed in regions where the geological structure offers an interesting interpretation of geological processes (and is hence presented in this way to the public), and where a functional infrastructure is built from local groups to support traditional as well as new geotourist activities.

A national geopark is a site, which represents the geological heritage of the Czech Republic and has applied strategies for sustainable development. Every geopark has clearly defined boundaries and covers a large enough, populated area that enables the promotion of the concept of sustainable development, i.e., to fulfil the main idea of geoparks.

A national geopark includes geotopes that are exceptional from the point of view of scientific research, aesthetic value, and educational use and represents the geological heritage of the country. These sites are interconnected by a system of marked, publicly accessible trails. Most sites presented within a national geopark belong to the geological heritage and are complemented by ecological, archaeological, mining, historical, ethnographic, and cultural monuments.

The system is built on a possibility to exchange experience among individual geoparks in order to support application of tools to support tourism. The main coordinating body of the national network of geoparks is the National Geoparks Council of the Czech Republic operating under the Ministry of the Environment of the Czech Republic. The council helps implement the principles of the geoparks concept, helps run their activities, and also decides which candidate sites to include to the national network of geoparks.

The Czech system of geoparks is connected to the European network of geoparks that was established in 2000 and by the mid-2010 included 37 sites in 15 countries in Europe. The main objective of geoparks is, according to the European Geoparks charter, protection of geological sites, research, education and promotion of the Earth Sciences, the development of Geotourism and sustainable development within a given territory. Only a site that has proven its quality and functionality as a national geopark can become a European geopark. According to Madonie declaration (2004), every European Geopark becomes automatically a UNESCO Geopark. There are currently four certified national geoparks in the Czech Republic: Bohemian Paradise, Egeria, GeoLoci and the Železné hory Mountains. Bohemian Paradise is also listed by UNESCO. A highly significant indicator of the importance of geoparks not only for tourism, but also for education purposes, is the fact that six other geoparks are waiting to be included to the national network, i.e., they are undergoing a certification process. After their inclusion, the Czech Republic will have a network of ten geoparks covering different geological periods and offering a great potential to increase tourism almost in all regions of the country.

It is evident that within the rehabilitation projects that are being carried on both on the former as well as in the parts of active mining sites, the respects for local conditions including needs of communities is becoming the most important part of planning processes.

SO upon the planning of rehabilitations, the mining organizations more and more often unite with the representatives of local organizations or non-profit organizations not to obtain the results of the rehabilitation activities that are "only" technically correct, but mainly fulfil a specific objective for which the rehabilitation was intended. Beside the aforementioned geo-park concepts, it is then possible to find a number of rehabilitation projects, which are directly aimed at a support of tourism in the given region, be it in a form of sports centres, unique localities with protected flora and fauna, or localities for social realization. Unique concepts of creation of geo-parks then shows the possibility of accentuating also the use of large areas affected mainly with opencast mining, with regard to tourism of leisure time activities. The support of the geo-park concept by the Ministry of Environment of the Czech republic is an important element here, as it is can be presumed that in the future the public service will deal more intensively with the possibilities of support of concept-based rehabilitations also on larger areas.

The rehabilitation works also take place in a close cooperation between the investor – the mining organization – on the one side and architects, representatives of the local community or non-profit organizations on the other side. This is also in the Czech Republic one of the few ways of bridging the mistrust of the public toward mining with respect to concerns resulting from not only extraction itself, but also the consequences that remain after it. The proactive and responsive approach of mining companies to the problem of further use of the mining areas these days clearly shows  support for "Corporate Social Responsibility" as part of each undertaking, which is integral to the modern mining industry. The situation in the Czech Republic shows that also in the countries of the former "communist bloc" the mining industry can make  large stepd forward in the approach to the environment or communication with local communities.

The main challenge is now to further continue in an active communication with the local communities, with the aim to assist the future development of mining localities after mining itself jhas ceased. A significant support to this is the exchange of the best accessible practices in the form of various information platforms (for instance, the European association Euromines) or contests promoting rehabilitations in compliance with the intentions of the local communities (e.g. the Green Bridge of the Mining Association of the Czech Republic).

David Póč, Těžební unie (Mining Association of Czech Rep.)

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