The idea for the Abruzzo National Park arose in the years following World War I when the municipality of Opi leased 5 square kilometres of land to a private federation with the aim of protecting flora and fauna. Over the next few years the territory of the park expanded into neighbouring municipalities until it covered around 120 km² by 1923, when protection was enshrined in law. A period of intense activity followed and the park had further expanded to around 300 km² when it was abolished by the Fascist government in 1933.Re-establishment of the park in 1950 coincided with a period of financial difficulty, followed by a building boom which saw more than 12,000 trees felled for the construction of houses, roads and ski tracks. A reorganisation of the park management at the end of the sixties heralded better times and by 1976 further expansion, to 400 km², followed at the request of villages in neighbouring Molise, that were convinced by the economic benefits of the park.
Today, at 500 km², the area of the park is 100 times larger than the original reserve. The mountains within the park are Petroso (2,249 metres), Marsicano (2,245 metres), Meta (2,242 metres), Tartaro (2,191 metres), Jamiccio (2,074 metres), Cavallo (2,039 metres), Palombo (2,013 metres).These are included in the Monti della Meta. The Sangro River rises, near Devil’s Pass, and runs south-east through the artificial Lago di Barrea before leaving the park and turning to the north-east. Other rivers in the park are the Giovenco, Malfa and Volturno. Other lakes are Vivo, Pantaniello, Scanno, Montagna Spaccata, Castel San Vincenzo, Grottacampanaro, and Selva di Cardito. In wildlife terms, the main attractions of the park are the Marsican Brown Bear and the Italian Wolf. While official figures report 70-100 bears in this genetically isolated population, the declining population is actually estimated at closer to 30. The shift from local agriculture to development in Abruzzo (including a controversial proposed ski resort) and poaching, threaten the remaining small population.While Wolves were once rarer (as low as 40), numbers have reportedly rebounded in recent years.The elusive Eurasian Lynx is present in the park, very rarely seen but heard calling.In greater numbers, though no easier to spot, are Red Deer and Roe Deer, and the reintroduced Wild Boar, which live in the thicker areas of the forest. Other reclusive inhabitants of the forest include the Polecat, the Badger, the Otter and two species of marten, the Pine Marten and the Beech Marten. Higher, above the forest, Chamois live alone or in small groups.Animals that are easier to see include Red Fox, the Mountain Hare, the Least Weasel, the European Mole, and the Western European Hedgehog. Dormice and Red Squirrel s are also quite frequently seen.
Other mammals recorded in the park are the Snow Vole, the Edible Dormouse, the Wildcat and an introduced species the Crested Porcupine whose quills may be seen on paths. Many bird of prey inhabit the park. Most notable amongst them is the Golden Eagle which, despite living in the more inaccessible regions, can often be seen soaring over central areas of the park in search of prey such as small mammals or even sick, young chamois. Other raptors that reside within the park include Goshawks, Peregrine Falcons, Eurasian Buzzards, Kestrels and Eurasian Sparrowhawks. Less visible, but perhaps more audible, to the nighttime visitor are several species of owl, the Little Owl, the Barn Owl and the Tawny Owl. Woodland birds include the Green Woodpecker and the rare White-backed Woodpecker, cliffs harbour the Red-billed Chough and Alpine Chough and bare mountain birds include the Rock Partridge and White-winged Snowfinch. Streams provide habitat for the Grey Wagtail and White-throated Dipper.The flora of the park is rich and interesting. A comprehensive list of plants would extend to more than 2,000 species without including lichens, algae or fungi. Flowers present in the area include gentian, primrose, cyclamen, violets and the lily. The most well-known flower of the Park is the rare lady’s slipper (Cypripedium calceolus), a yellow and black orchid.The predominant tree of the park is the beech which covers 60% of the area, generally grows at 900-1800 m altitude and provides a stunning display of colour throughout the whole year. Other notable trees are the Black Pine, the Mountain Pine and the Silver Birch.
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