Geopark Iskar-panega Project was implemented with the financial support of the PHARE Program “Development of Bulgarian Ecotourism”. The main objective of the program was to provide technical and financial support for improvement of the quality of the priority sector of ecotourism in Bulgaria and contribute to raising its competitiveness.
Aims of the project:
1.To establish the first geopark in Bulgaria as a tool for promoting the national geotourism potential at European level through the European Networks of Geoparks;
2. To create an integrated tourist product based on the mosaic of various national landmarks from karst regions in the Municipality of Lukovit;
3. To raise the attractiveness of natural heritage while at the same time promoting sustainable tourism development and preserving natural resources for future generations;
4. To broadly promote the created tourist product and develop a marketing strategy for its further popularization in the long run and to larger target groups;
5. To stimulate entrepreneurship in the tourism sector and coordinate the interests of public authorities, local communities and private entities in the region.
The project activities included the development of tourist infrastructure at the territory of Geopark “Iskar-Panega” (wooden bridges, summer-houses, and stairs, shelters and picnic sites, platforms) which ensured access for tourists to natural landmarks of national importance and different attractive karts forms. The tourist infrastructure and the tracing of paths created tourist routs with different length, through which the tourist is navigated by a system of orientation boards. In order to make tourist routs more attractive a non-verbal animation (through information boards) of main sites were made. An assessment of the potential and a marketing strategy were developed in order to ensure proper management and popularization of the new tourist product. The project also developed and equipped a Balkan Centre of Speleology, in which with prior request, tourists can learn more scientific and curious information about objects in the Geopark from representatives of the local Speleological Club or from specialists from the Bulgarian federation of speleology. During the project first steps for positioning the product were at the tourist market through advertising, meetings with media and local community and other interested parties were organized.
The main result of the project was the development of the first Geopark in Bulgaria encompassing of different natural and historical landmarks located on the territory of the Municipality of Lukovit. As a result of the project the development of the municipality as tourist destination is a fact, geotourism was promoted as a factor for social-economic development, the competitiveness of the tourist industry in the region and the attractiveness of the natural heritage were raised. As a result of project activities a temporary employment was ensured for 20 unemployed people, the number of overnights at main lodging facilities increased (with over 40 %) and the number of visits of the city and the region rose significantly.
For a period of one year after project completion the Geopark Iskar-Panega destination will be managed by Municipality of Lukovit. For ensuring additional services that are offered the Municipality works in partnership with the “Unique nature” foundation, Lukovit, Speleological club “Petar Tranteev”, Lukovit, and Club for Extreme Sports “Adrenalin”. In order to raise the sustainability of the project the municipality will continue maintain the infrastructure and will take care for its development and improvement through the development of public-private partnership, whose main purpose will be in a midterm period to prepare the candidature of the Geopark for membership in the European Network of Geoparks. This will significantly raise the image of the destination, the interest to it and its visitation.