In 2010, the group who would later become TOKA started an ambitious (insane?) project to begin marking, mapping and signposting more than 200km of hiking trails in and around Valbona Valley National Park, funded only by tourist donations (well and some paint from UNDP – watch the video).
We believed it was important that this initiative came from local people, and so we worked slowly. At first no one really understood the need, or worse, thought their potential jobs as local guides would be threatened. But after the first trails started passing the first remote stans (shepherd’s houses and farms), the local people quickly realized that passing tourists meant passing business! And then everyone realized that if there were hiking trails, tourists would stay for a week, instead of a day. In 2016 we are delighted to announce that local trails are being lovingly maintained by local volunteers, who say things like “We have to get ready for the season!” and “We must all work together and help each other!” It’s really rather wonderful.
Our “pocket hiking maps” for individual trail systems have been called “The Best Hiking Maps in Albania” by the Bradt Guide. Until now, they’ve only been available in Valbona, from Rilindja Hotel (TOKA’s birthplace), but in summer 2017 we hope to figure out how to sell them online to generate income for TOKA and community projects.