Efforts begin to breathe new life into fire-ravaged Monchique

A volunteer initiative to repair the hiking trails of Monchique is planned for this Friday and will mark the first of many projects that aim to help the hillside community get back on its feet after the devastating fire last summer that destroyed a large part of the municipality’s territory.

The event will take place between Picota and Foz dos Barreiros, a 12km stretch that is part of the Via Algarviana walking trail.

Volunteers will be asked to help paint the signposts that identify the trail, and which were destroyed by the flames. Anyone can sign up, however, “for logistical reasons”, the number of volunteers will be limited to 25.

The event is organised by environmental association Almargem, one of the entities behind a project called ‘Revitalisar Monchique – o turismo como catalizador’ (Revitalising Monchique – tourism as a catalyst).

The project was unveiled in January to help recover hiking and cycling trails that were destroyed by last summer’s wildfire, create new ones and find other ways of making the borough even more attractive to visitors, including the creation of local travel itineraries and a hiking festival.

“We have many initiatives planned for this year,” Anabela Santos from Almargem told the Resident.

Apart from the efforts to recover the trails that were destroyed, there are also plans to welcome journalists and tour guides from abroad in a bid to improve Monchique’s international exposure.

Also on the agenda is the creation of new walking routes.

“We are also planning to meet with locals to discuss any ideas that they might have,” Anabela told us.

The project, which has a budget of around €480,000, is funded completely by the national tourism authority Turismo de Portugal and is backed by the Algarve tourism association, Monchique council and environmental association Almargem.

To sign up for Almargem’s volunteer initiative, contact the association at 289 412 959 or [email protected]

Crochet craze
Meantime, a group of Monchique residents is keen to push another community initiative which started before last year’s fires but follows similar lines – to bring life and colour to the “Serra”.

Local association Espiral de Vontades wants to make the “world’s largest crochet blanket” and exhibit it for a day at the top of Fóia. The goal is to set a new Guinness World Record by the end of 2020, but help is needed to achieve it (click here).

As the association’s president Luísa Martins told us, the initiative gained even more importance after the fire, which raged for one week and destroyed around 27,000 hectares of land in Monchique, Silves and Portimão.

Fóia boardwalk in the pipeline
Plans have been revealed to build a boardwalk and hiking trail in the peak of Fóia, the highest point in the Algarve.

The plans are part of the LIFE Relict project, created to protect Portugal’s laurel forests populated by flower species such as rhododendrons (adelfeirais), which can be found in the Fóia area, part of the Serra de Monchique.

“Rhododendron flowers are used as inspiration for literature and poetry. What we want with this project is to ensure that the habitats in Fóia are protected,” said Monchique mayor Rui André.

As he explained, “Monchique has unique climate conditions for this plant”.

Hopes are that the new boardwalk and hiking trail will make it easier for locals and visitors to enjoy these native flowers, helping boost the local economy by bringing more people to Monchique.

The project has already begun with the planting of more rhododendrons, while the boardwalk will start being built next year, Rui André said.

LIFE Relict was launched by the University of Évora in an attempt to preserve the country’s laurel forests.

Carlos Pinto Gomes, the researcher in charge of the project, told Sulinformação that many people believe that laurel forests “only exist in Madeira and the Azores but we also have it here”.

“The problem is that our laurissilva is threatened due to climate issues and land management. That is what led us to this goal of saving it,” he said.

Monchique fire victims “discriminated against”
Monchique mayor Rui André travelled to Lisbon on April 23 to discuss, in parliament, new ways to support affected fire victims in his borough, many still suffering from the consequences of last summer’s blaze and unable to get on with their lives.

“After what happened in Pedrógão Grande (an area in central Portugal seriously affected by fire in 2017), we can openly say that we are being discriminated against,” he told the Commission of Agriculture and Sea, criticising the “bureaucratic web” that has led many people who lost their homes or properties to the fire to give up from seeking support.

“A lot went wrong in Monchique during and after the fire, and there are many people who are not going to receive support. We need to create special support measures for these people,” the mayor pleaded.

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