I met with Luis Aragón, the Almuñécar Councillor for the Environment, to talk about the Peña Escrita mountain park and its future plans.
Luis was first made a councillor in 2003 as part of the Benavides administration but broke with the party and formed his own one together with other disillusioned members of the CA. Since 2011, however, he has been the Councillor for the Environment within the Herrera, coalition administration.
To cut a long story short the mountain park turned out to be a poisoned chalice when the mayoralty changed hands, inoperable in its then set up and bleeding funds at 400,000 euros a year.
Luis put that amount into perspective for me by explaining that the Aquario was also a loss maker but at an acceptable amount; these installations are considered a public service so even though the town loses two euros per visitor, it is affordable. In the case of the mountain park, even when it was open, the Town Hall was losing 100 euros per visitor. (you take the total visitors per year divided into the total running costs, minus entrance takings, which gives you the above loss-per-visitor figure).
But of course, they couldn’t open the mountain park because the installations were illegal in that they were not adequate for the animals that were kept up there. There were camels, bears, lions, tigers, a hypo, emus, a hyena – it was a veritable Noah’s Ark.
The race began to find alternative homes for the inmates. The emus were transferred to the bird park, for instance, the bears (all except one) went to Hungary.
Some animals had to be put down because they had suffered so badly from being in a place totally divorced from the real climate they need and were unable to even move by themselves because of rheumatism, let alone be moved.
The amount of paperwork to move, let’s say, the tigers, was incredible and like most paper juggling in Spain, mind blowingly slow. Take the two Moroccan mountain goats, which you would think that you could just turn loose, but you can’t as they are considered an “invasive species” and would procreate with great alacrity in the wild.
But the problems weren’t all confined to the animals there. There were early plans to hold summer camps for kids there but they had to be scrapped because there is only one way in and out and in the case of a mountain fire, that is completely unacceptable.
Even the idea of having a gated entrance had to be scrapped because the road up there follows an old cañada real (drover’s way); i.e., a public right of way that cannot be closed or a toll levied. Cañadas reales are seven metres in width.
The wild animal enclosures also presented a problem for paragliders – if somebody came down in the tigers’ pen then they wouldn’t need feeding for a few days afterwards.
Which brings us to today, with just the bear, which is too old to travel and would die in transit. One reader asked if wouldn’t it at least be better giving it the chance of a transfer and if it died then it wouldn’t have died alone in a pen. The problem with that is that the receiving entity (a zoo in Hungary) wouldn’t be willing to go through the costs of transferring an animal that might not arrive, and if it did, wouldn’t last long.
So, what have we got? several wooden cabins, a swimming pool, stables and a restaurant, amazing views, and there are already entities interested in leasing it, which couldn’t please the Town Hall more.
Will there be animals? Yes, but the sort that you find on the other side of the perimeter fence; i.e., typical Iberian fauna such as mountain goats and deer, for example.
This mountain park is a jewel as a tourism asset for the town- to have a weekend up there in one of the cabins and spend the day walking or just admiring the views is something that many, many people would love, so keep your fingers crossed.
(News/Interview: Luis Aragón, Almuñécar Councillor for the Environment)