“Italian and American Park and Protected Area Twinning”, unpublished, (2000)

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December 2000

Italian and American Park and Protected Area Twinning

by Paul M. Bray

Beginning in 1997, still evolving and diverse transcultural conservation activities focusing on parks and protected areas began between Italians and Americans under the rubric of ‘twinning’. These activities have grown and flourished as awareness of common experiences and challenges grew and valuable benefits accrued from building bridges between parks and protected areas in the two nations and fostering related conservation exchanges between conservationists.


Despite a long history of conservation lessons between Italy and the USA going back to the 19th century with writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson who wrote Nature after spending six months in Italy and George Perkins Marsh who wrote Man and Nature, a ‘fountainhead of conservation’ while serving as American Ambassador to Italy, the common assumption has been that Italy and America are worlds apart when it comes to nature conservation. Environmental historians like Marcus Hall, Ph.D, are bringing this history to light and pointing out its continuing relevance to today’s conservation issues.

Of course, America with its vast areas of wilderness and public estate parks like Yellowstone has very different conditions than a densely populated nation like Italy with its many layers of cultural heritage. Different conditions resulted in different park and protected area experiences. But these differences are shrinking quickly and resulting in a common pluralism affecting park and protected area planning and management.

Canadian’s J.Gordon Nelson and Lucy M. Sportza describe the situation that set the stage for the Italy-USA twinnings in their article ‘The Evolving Shift in Protected Area Thought and Practice’:

We are living in a shifting and evolving framework for protected areas, nature conservation and sustainable development. This situation is marked by the involvement of many government agencies and private groups not only in the lands and waters in and around protected areas, but those that are far away. In these circumstances concerned agencies and private groups cannot easily regulate or direct on another’s activities. Civic arrangements need to be encouraged so that the array of stakeholders concerned about protected areas, nature conservation and sustainable development can learn mutually for one another and find ways to communicate, negotiate, plan and act in the individual and the common interest. In this respect pluralism needs to be explicitly recognized and to be dealt with in a collaborative rather than a predominantly or exclusively corporate manner. The human dimensions of protected area planning, management and decision making require as much attention as science at the local, provincial or state, national and international scales of thought and practice.

Picture of the 1st George Perkins Marsh International Visitor Program Team from Italy. Part of twinning effort – at Glynwood Center in New York State in 1999. Included in picture are representatives of the National Park Service including Northeast Regional Director Marie Rust.

This paradigm shift has dramatically affected both Italy and the USA. In Italy, change has come about because of a tremendous expansion of its parks and protected areas over the last two decades as well as abandonment of mountainous land. Italy has gone from 4 National Parks in the early 1980s to over twenty National Parks today and its total percentage of land mass dedicated to parks and protected areas has grown from just about 1% to almost the European standard of 10%. Its 1991 park frame law established an ambitious program of nature conservation coupled with sustainable development in a pluralistic environment.

Changes are also evident in the USA. For traditional, gated parks, issues relating to their larger ecosystem and human communities are increasingly arising on the park’s management agenda. At the same new forms of park like arrangements like heritage areas (a.k.a. urban cultural parks), regional greenways and reserves are being created that call for collaborative management. They have been referred to as ‘partnership parks’.

Making connections

These conditions set the stage for discourse, sharing experiences and learning on a park to park and person to person level between Italy and the USA.

Connections between parks and protected areas like the Po Park and the Hudson River Greenway, the mountainous Abruzzo and Adirondack Parks and Pisa Regional Parks and Long Island Pine Barrens Preserve became immediately evident. Each park and protected area separately, but even more so together could be a laboratory and lessons can be learned of international relevance from study and evaluation of policies, planning and programming, management models, information systems and interactions among stakeholders involved in the integrated planning, decision making and management of natural areas and cultural resources.

The twinning idea took hold immediately and contacts were initiated between three sets of parks or similar institutions:

-Abruzzo and Adirondack Parks;

-Po Park and Hudson River Valley Greenway; and

-Pisa Regional Parks and Long Island Pine Barrens.

Other twinnings have been discussed between Parco Litorale Romano and Hudson Mohawk Urban Cultural Park, Parco Artistico, Naturale e Culturale della Val d’Orcia and the Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Alpi Apuana Regional Park and the Catskill Park.

Soon, a support network of academics and professionals emerged in Italy and the USA. Faculty and administrators at a number of academic institutions indicated an interest in developing and participating in study and research projects from the twinnings. They include the Politecnico di Torino and the University of Florence in Italy and in the United States they include the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Bard College, Albany Law School, Pennsylvannia State University (from which landscape architecture students have already done field work in the Abruzzo Park) and the State University at Albany. Additional colleges and universities in Italy and the USA have an expressed an interest in and are likely to participate in the twinning in one form or another.


Members of the PO Park/Piemonte Region Delegation with Judy La Belle and Paul Bray at Glynwood.

The Twinning Project is intended to work on a people to people, park to park basis with active involvement of institutions of higher education, government and the nonprofit sector.

For example, Professor Franco Tassi, Director of the Abruzzo National Park – Italy’s oldest National Park, has visited the Adirondack Park twice, participated in a Wilderness Roundtable sponsored by the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks and visited with park officials. His explanation of how the Abruzzo Park authorities have been able to equate natural protection with economic advancement over the past 25 years attracted much attention. His work in economic sustainability in environmentally sensitive areas offers a valuable model for both Italy and the USA. As a result of his visit, the Abruzzo Park Authority and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, one of the two management agencies for the Adirondack Park, have entered into a joint agreement to establish a long term cooperative arrangement.

Various exchanges have flourished since the Abruzzo-Adirondack agreement was signed. Two Adirondack delegations totaling a diverse mix of 20 people have visited the Abruzzo Park. These delegations have included park officials, town supervisors, conservationists, educators and artists. 13 staff from the Abruzzo Park participated in a park management training program presented by Paul Smith College of the Adirondacks and three young residents of the Abruzzo Park attended the State Department of Environmental Conservation Camp during the summer of 1999.

Delegations have also exchanged visits between the Po Park/Piemonte Region and the Long Island Pine Barren Preserve. Discussions are going forward on organizing further exchanges and cooperative projects for two river regions that see themselves as internationally relevant laboratories for resource management and sustainable development.

Protection of sensitive nature preserves in urbanized areas have brought the Pisa Regional Parks together with the Long Island Pine Barrens Preserve. Representatives of the these two protected areas have been drafting a cooperative agreement which is expected to be signed in Pisa when a Long Island delegation visits there in November 2000.

Publications have played a constructive role in supporting the twinning. Of special note is the issue of the George Wright Society Forum featuring the Italian-USA twinning. The Society is an association of natural and cultural resource managers and academics. Other American publications that have published articles on the twinning are the Conservationist and Sanctuary. In addition, Parchi, Sherwood and Gazette Ambient are three Italian publications that have committed to publish information and articles that result from the twinning efforts. Various academic journals will also be approached to publish research findings from the twinning program, Voice of America, the Environment Show on National Public Radio in the USA and newspapers in Italy and the USA have done features or reported on the Twinning Project.


Professor Roberto Gambino making a presentation in the Village of Tivoli to members of the Upper Dutchess County Alliance

Interested higher education institutions in Italy and the USA are each in the process of organizing a national consortia to support and advance the objectives of the twinning. Besides support from the Italian Fulbright Committee which created a two year pilot environmental program focusing on the twinning, complementary support will be sought from agencies and programs like FIPSE, Man and the Biosphere and USIA. These institutions have a wide diversity of programs including planning, economics, law, geography, Italian studies, landscape architecture, environmental policy, and archeology and faculty therein to support the multi-disciplinary approach called for by the twinning project.

USIA has organized two George Perkins Marsh International Visitor Program teams of Italian conservation professionals for three week visits to the USA to visit parks and protected areas and to meet American officials and conservation professionals. In May 2000 an IVP Italian team included the Director of the Cilento National Park, Domenico Nicoletti, and one of the outcomes of the visit may be the twinning of Cilento with Santa Monica National Recreation Area.


George Perkins Marsh, International Visitors Program Team II from Italy in 2000 including Cilento National Park Director Domenico Niccoleti, knelling in front, before boarding a boat from a trip on the Hudson River. Also in picture is Judy La Belle and Paul Bray.

The Glynwood Center near Cold Spring in New York State has actively supported the twinning and exchange activity. The Italian connection relates well to the Center’s traditional activity of stewardship exchanges between the USA and Great Britain which have gone on for more than a decade and its growing role in park training for the National Park Service. The Center hosted the Po Park delegation and the International Visitors Program teams and its President, Judy LaBelle, participated in a speaking program in Italy sponsored by the State Department.

Through the efforts of Northeast Director Marie Rust of the National Park Service and the Department of State which were inspired by the twinning activity, an expired cooperative agreement between the National Park Service and the Italian Nature Conservation Service has been revived officially in April 2000.

The twinning effort continues in the process of defining topics of mutual interest for the identification of research and pilot projects like training projects. Participating parks and related areas will be the focus, but related environment and sustainable development projects in other parks and cultural landscapes in Italy and the USA will be deemed to be part of the twinning. The aforementioned institutions, each in their own ways, are part of this process.

Outcomes so far

On the American side, the most visible positive benefits from the twinning are evident in the Adirondack Park that is over 100 years old and has been called both a contested landscape and a park still in the painful process of becoming a park. Vast in size (6 million acres) with 130,000 full time residents, the Adirondack Park has almost 3 million acres of constitutional protected ‘forever wild’ public land and many hamlets with poor economic conditions. Stu Buchanan, Department of Environmental Conservation Regional Director for much of the Park and a member of the first delegation to the Abruzzo Park said, ‘it took a trip to Italy and the Abruzzo Park for a diverse group from the Park to realize that they could work together’.

In the Abruzzo Park Adirondackers saw first hand the placement of park visitor centers in all of the Park villages, each with a separate wildlife theme like the wolf, bear and insect. The centers were focal points for attracting visitors to the villages and a catalyst for park compatible eco-development. This contrasted with Adirondack visitor centers which were far from Park hamlets and auto dependent.

This lesson was not lost on the Adirondack visitors. All saw the value of creating park centers in Adirondack hamlets as a way of educating the public on park resources and values and as an initial step to economic revitalization. In a Park where state and local officials rarely find reason to work together, the town if Inlet Supervisor J. R. Risling is working with state officials and the nonprofit Wildlife Conservation Society, all of whom who have visited the Abruzzo Park, to open the first of what is hoped to be many park centers in vacant storefronts in his town in May 2000. The lesson of the Abruzzo is frequently referred to as the model, not just for the park center but also for developing a spirit of cooperation in the Park. Buchanan believes that the Abruzzo Park lesson taught the Adirondack Park managers that ‘making economic well-being is an important park management function’.

The primary focus for the many of the Italians who have been involved in twinning activity is the positive role played by the American nonprofit sector in conservation. Conservation advocacy, volunteer trail work and commitment of private funds through, for example, land trusts have caught the attention of the Italians. As a result, there is increasing interest in Italy in strengthening tax incentives for contributions to nonprofit private organizations. Judy LaBelle’s Department of State sponsored, twinning related speaking tour in Italy focused on this subject.

Other areas of interest form both sides of the twinnings have included the positive role of higher education programs in the park and of arts organization, fostering volunteer activity, wildlife habitat protection programs, development of community stewardship attitudes, eco-tourism approaches and enhancing interpretive techniques.


Italian-USA park and protected area twinning as succeeded so far on the joy of eye opening discovery and the spirit freed by cross cultural contact where common cause has been easily found. Many of the twinning participants from each nation come from environments where suspicion and lack of trust hinder successful park management. The openness of the cross cultural communications and experiences has had a unifying and relation building effect within communities in both nations. That comes in part from learning that the seemingly intractable challenges at home are shared by others who have found ways to address these challenges. The realization, for example, that the small Adirondack Park communities are part of a global community, only on key board stroke away from their sister park in Italy, has had an eye-opening impact for the better.

Paul M. Bray is an Albany attorney and President of P.M. Bray LLC, an environmental and planning law firm. He is a member of WPCA and the Commission on Environmental Law and recipient of a Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome.