to the President, members of the Parliament, Ministry of Tourism and Sport, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Environmental Protection, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Emergency Response, Akimat (Mayor’s Office) of the city of Almaty, and political parties of the country
Kok-Jailau valley located to the south of the city of Almaty – is one of the most accessible and beloved recreation places for the residents of Almaty who like hiking, bicycling, skiing, and horse riding tourism. The valley is accessible by trails from the Bolshoi and Maly Almatinsky Canyons. Hundreds of people come here with their whole families - some come for a few hours, others come for several days. Thanks to efforts of the Ile-Alatau National Park’s staff and volunteer-activists, the valley is basically kept clean, while in most other places, littering is common. Here, there is a special warm environment, where strangers say hello to each other and start a conversation… Many of them come here for several decades on a regular basis and consider Kok-Jailau their native land.
But soon Almaty locals may lose their beloved place of recreation where the quite and beautiful wild nature will be at first replaced by the roar of machinery, and later - by the ski resort with endless fences all-around the private land plots.
The topic of construction of the new ski resort in Kok-Jailau valley was first raised in 2007. In 2011, mayor of the city of Almaty, Essimov A.S., turned to this subject again. The project includes construction of an international resort with a total length of the ski tracks of over 100 km, construction of ski tows, hotels, restaurants, retail and entertainment centers, and golf fields; development of infrastructure – auto road, auto parking, electrical, natural gas, and water supply facilities! All of this is going to be developed at the expense of the state budget! With a consideration that private investors will build-up the resort with commercial and residential estate later on!
The Ministry of Tourism and Sport has already sent their request to allocate financial means from the country’s state budget. Some members of the Parliament supported this idea (1). While only feasibility study for the project was estimated at 370 million tenge! They call the project “strategic” and say that “thanks to this project we will raise tourism for the whole republic” (2).
The main reason of why we raise against this development is that Kok-Jailau valley is located on the territory of Ile-Alatau State National Natural Park (SNNP). Construction of such a large-scale facility contradicts requirements of the legislation of the Republic of Kazakhstan and is incompatible with a designation of the specially protected natural territory. According to the international classification of specially protected natural territories adopted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), national parks are created for preservation of natural systems and recreation. The main goals of the parks are protection of species and biological diversity and provision of ecological services. Tourism always has a negative impact on natural environment, and therefore, according to the IUCN, the most appropriate type of tourism on the territories of national parks is ecological tourism (3).
Construction of the new resort inside the national park does not only contradict the national legislation in the area of specially protected territories, protection of nature, water, forest, and land resources, but also international legislation, in particular, the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Ile-Alatau Park was founded in 1996 and its primary goal is to preserve unique ecosystems and landscapes of Zailiisky Alatau (4). The park is the one which provides population of Almaty with fresh air, drinking water, and is a valuable recreation resource for the people. It is vitally important to the city exactly as a whole, undisturbed by a human activity natural territory. Any mountain ski resort brings a significant negative impact on ecosystems – soil and vegetation, topography, water sources, and atmosphere. And the new resort is not going to be an exception.
The flora of the Maly Almatinsky Canyon consists of 811 plant species, including 17 species registered in the Red Book of Kazakhstan, 11 endemic species. Kok-Jailau valley is one of the few places where one can still find the famous Sivers apple tree, which is an original species for many modern cultivated apple trees and is now at the edge of extinction. Construction and functioning of the resort will damage the soil and vegetation cover, and will require cutting of hundreds of Tian-Shan spruce (Picea schrenkiana) trees.
The territory of Ile-Alatau SNNP is inhabited by more than 1700 animal species, including 13 bird and 8 mammal species registered in the Red Book (5). The problem of preservation of the animal population already exists in the park. The ski resort will not only harm the fauna, but will impede its recovery.
The resort water supply and golf fields irrigation systems will require hundreds of thousands cubic meters of water per year (6). At the present time, the valley has several springs and small creeks which are not able to provide the resort with such water volumes. Meanwhile, this water is needed by the park itself. Besides, it should be remembered that the city is under a shortage of water for a long time already, and many water intakes for the city are located in this part of the park.
One more important aspect. Back in 2000, Ile-Alatau SNNP was included in the tentative list of sites nominated by the Republic of Kazakhstan into the World Heritage List (7). Construction of the new mountain ski resort on the territory of the national park contradicts the criteria of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. This reduces the chances of Ile-Alatau SNNP to be selected into the prestigious List. Meanwhile, the status of the national park as a part of the World Heritage would attract much more foreign tourists than the ski resort.
And finally, as for today, the experience of implementing similar projects in our country is negative. Widely known ambitious plan of reconstruction of Medeu and Chimbulak resorts was started in 2007. Its goal was to create the first year-round mountain sport resort of international level in Kazakhstan. It was expected that this would bring a “long-term positive effect on the economy of Kazakhstan” (8). But it was implemented incompletely, and the bulk part of the project stayed on paper. But brining such “ideas” to life leads to a significant degradation of the territories of the SNNP, most of the lands get appropriated by a small circle of people, and as a result, the whole ecosystem starts suffering. Many attractive land plots on the territory of the Ile-Alatau park and around it, which used to be important recreational spots for the city population, are already privatized which limited access of the wide segments of the population and tourists to the nationwide resources!
Economic aspects and general groundlessness of the project
Representatives of the akimat (Mayor’s Office) admit themselves that it is impossible to find private investments because the project is too risky. Therefore, they request money from the state republican budget. Slopes of Kumbel above Kok-Jailau valley are extremely dangerous due to avalanches. Development of Kok-Jailau valley is accompanied with extensive road and avalanche-protection constructions. At the same time, building roads in a mountainous region is several times more expensive than on a flat surface (for example, in Alps, they indicate an 8 times difference). Complexity of the topography, special geological conditions, and human activity contributes to intensive development of physical and geological processes and phenomena in the highland of Zailiisky Alatau, such as mud flows, landslides, scree, decay, and erosion which prevention also requires significant financial investment.
The arguments that the resort will attract foreign tourists sound weak. European countries have hundreds of mountain ski resorts with developed high-quality service (9). The mountain ski tourism is developing fast with a high-quality service and affordable prices in China (10), Turkey (11), and even in the neighboring Kyrgyzstan (12). In order to develop tourism in Almaty and in the country in general, first of all, it is necessary to solve such issues as complicated visa receiving process, lack of developed tourist infrastructure, insufficient amount of hotels with different price ranges, weak network of transportation by air, low quality of service at high prices, despotism of the authorities. Besides, foreigners are detracted by our prices. Because of these and other problems, Kazakhstan took the 93 place out of 139 countries in a rating of competitiveness in tourism and travel sector in 2011 (13).
Based on the interests of the society and state, conditions for sustainable development of the region, cities, and villages of Almaty oblast and functioning of their life support systems which are fully depended on the conditions of the natural complexes of Zailiisky Alatau, preservation of Ile-Alatau National Park is more beneficial and economically justified!
It appears to be more logical to develop already existing resorts and sport bases which currently do not operate on their full capacity. In the vicinity of Almaty, in a radius of 50 km, there is a dozen of mountain ski resorts and bases: “Chimbulak”, “Ak-bulak”, “Tabagan”, “Almatau”, “Elik-Sai”, “Shybynsai”, “Enbek”, Tau-Turan”, Lesnaya skazka”, “Dinamo”, sport base in Kaskelen canyon, and other less popular bases (14).
The main reasons why European tourists come to Kazakhstan are the spots of untouched nature such as Ile-Alatau National Park. In the past few years, ecotourism, (or-) tourism which has a minimal impact on the environment, has become popular all around the world. Namely ecotourism could become a pride of Almaty oblast. Development of ecological tourism (scientific tourism, educative tourism, bird watching, botanical excursions, video- and photo excursions, ethnical tourism and others) is a priority goal of the national park which is indicated in its General development plan.
We demand to ban the construction of the mountain ski resort in Kok-Jailau on the territory of Ile-Alatau National Park. Specifically, we are not against development of tourism in the region, we are for development of ecological tourism (which does not harm the unique ecosystems of Zailiisky Alatau), we are for development of the already existing mountain ski resorts, and we are against the situation when elite tourism develops at the expense of the public money (i.e. our taxes) and deprives thousands of Kazakhstan citizens from the common places of recreation!