SUVs driving tourists up Rila Mountain damage the ecosystem of the National Park

Bulgaria cracks down on illegal SUVs in Rila National Park

Bulgaria cracks down on illegal SUVs in Rila National Park

Park Authorities face numerous attempts by opportunists to offer illegal transport services in the protected park

Tourist season is in full swing in Bulgaria and park authorities in the Rila National Park are cracking down on illegal off-road vehicles driving tourists up to the famous Rila Lakes. After 30 June 2021 vehicles on the roads, going up after the first station of the tourist lift, are banned. In this way, authorities hope to stop any attempts of transgression.  

Currently, there are only two ways to get to the famous Rila Lakes legally – taking the lift or hiking up the mountain.

A game of cat and mouse on the slopes of the Rila mountain

SUVs driving tourists up the mountain has been a problem for Park Rangers for several years now. Until recently, it was legal for jeeps to travel up until pillar 17 of the lift, so their drivers used this as an opportunity to go off-road after it, the first chance they had.

Jeeps use dirt roads and secret passes, transporting tourists to the lift’s final destination. According to a blogger known as Mariana Jedi, the drivers charge 25 euros per trip, while the price of the lift is just 5 euros per person, so this contributes to a lucrative informal industry.

The story of illegal tourist transportation to the Rila Lakes recurs every year, with authorities trying their best to control the situation. Last year, an illegal SUV ran over a police officer, causing serious physical injury.

Some time ago, the problem even prompted the government to consider opening an official road up the mountain so that illegal off-road tourist shuttling would not damage the ecosystem of the park. Thankfully, the decision has been shelved for now.

A park protection coalition

This year, the police are guarding all approaches to the national park. The joint effort includes the Municipality of Rila, the police and the Rila Park authorities, as well as Forestry Protection, Economic Police and the State Motor Vehicle Inspectorate.

"It's a difficult story to deal with. Drivers simply say that they were going for mushrooms or herbs," said Kalin Gelev, mayor of Sapareva Banya in an interview with NOVA TV.

Krassimir Andonov, the director of the national park stressed the need for the state to ensure the collection of fines that have already been imposed on violators.

Rila National Park authorities are famous for trying to stop numerous violations on the park grounds. The Danovists, a Christian-esoteric sect, hold the Lakes atop the mountain in particularly high regard, doing a mass bathing ritual there every year. Bathing in the lakes, however, is prohibited by park authorities.

The British reality TV star - Bear Grylls also got in trouble for killing a protected frog and bathing in one of the lakes in an episode of his Running Wild series back in 2017, as both the production company and himself had to pay a hefty fine.

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