Brdy transformation from military exercise area advancing as ordered

Brdy, photo: Štěpánka Budková

Brdy, a stretch of hills and forests between Prague and Plzeň was originally talked about as the possible site for the first Czechoslovak national park. History took another turn and it became an ever expanding military exercise area. Now the process is being reversed with an end of year target for most of the transformation to take place.

Brdy,  photo: CTK
Putting the clock back around 90 years and at the same looking ahead to the next century is not an easy job when you are talking about a chunk of territory covering almost 350 square kilometres with a large army footprint on it.

But that is precisely the task that has been facing the Czech Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Environment, and local councils covering the former military exercise area of Brdy, which straddles the Central Bohemia and Plzeň regions.

The area, which is around three-quarters the size of the whole of the Prague city district, is heading back to civilian control after being under the military since 1926. The closed off military zone was progressively widened to reach its zenith in the last years of the former Communist regime and later grabbed some fame as the possible site for a US army radar base. But the clock is now ticking down to January 1 2016 when the area closed off for so many decades will be thrown open to the public, albeit under the special provisions of becoming a protected landscape area.

Martin Stropnický,  Richard Brabec,  photo: CTK
Defence minister Martin Stropnický and environment minister Richard Brabec held a joint press conference in the heart of the soon to be protected landscape area on Wednesday to update locals and the wider public on how the significant transformation is progressing. Minister Stropnický recalled that his first trip around a year and a half ago took place when the changes still produced a lot of apprehension and furious debate about how it would take place.

This is how minister the minister described the work in progress: “The mayors are satisfied that the deadline will be fulfilled and that everything is proceeding as planned. Of course there is still a lot of work that still has to be completed and some things will have to be fine-tuned after the protected landscape area comes into existence, but it’s all on the right track.”

Around a third of the weapons and munitions stored at the military exercise area have already been removed and around two-thirds should be gone by the end of the year. But the deadline for the final clear out is not until the end of 2017.

A lot of the questions about the new protected landscape area, which is on the doorstep of the major cities of Prague and Plzeň, deal with some pretty basic issues, such as how many new roads for emergency vehicles and forestry workers should crisscross the area and mobile phone coverage for emergencies. A new speed limit of 50 kilometres an hour, for example, has been agreed.

Brdy,  photo: Štěpánka Budková
But the main emphasis transport-wise will be of paving the way for walkers and cyclists to enjoy what some naturalists have described as a mini-Šumava, a reference to the national park along the western border of the Czech Republic and Germany. Plans have been prepared for up to 500 kilometres of cycle paths to be prepared, some starting almost on the edge of Plzeň. Many of the key decision on how to develop this new area, some of which can be built on, will left to the local councils themselves.

For some of them though, one of the major targets at the moment is landing the prestige and benefits likely to go with selection as the headquarters for the management of the new protected landscape area.