Appennino Tosco-Emiliano National Park (Parco Nazionale dell'Appennino Tosco-Emiliano) is a 260 square kilometre expanse separating the Po Valley and Mediterranean Sea. The area contains two regional parks and four state nature reserves.
The park covers four regions: Lucca, Massa and Carrara, Reggio Emilia and Parma. It is also one of Italy’s youngest National Parks, being established in 2001.
Humans have been treading the grass of the park for thousands of years. Many historic sites such as medieval fortresses, ancient roads and churches point to journeys from shepherds and pilgrims over the years, attracted to the site by its beauty, pastures, woods and seemingly endless water supply.
Like many national parks in Italy, the forests have previously been mined for the timber trade. Nowadays, the primary trade is food and drink. Many hills are dedicated to extensive dairy farming, responsible for Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, with other areas of grassland responsible for the cultivation of vineyards and olive groves.
The geology of the area is of great interest to archaeologists. Running right through the park is the Secchia Valley which contains Jurassic ophiolites, Cretaceous turbidites and Triassic Chalks, including limestones and dolomites, dating from over 200 million years ago. Sandstone bedrock can be seen throughout some areas of the park, along with fish fossils, which hark back to the area having previously been located under the Tethys Sea, from the Mesozoic Era and early Cenozoic Era.
Secchia Valley’s karst terrain is also one of its most intriguing features. The expansive area contains sinkholes, caves as well as sizable mountains, the largest of which is Alpe di Succiso at just over 2,000 metres.
The varying altitudes of the park allow for some fascinating fauna to thrive. The peaks of the Prado, Cusna and Piella mountains are in themselves very cold climates, where it is not unusual to see snow survive until late summer. The height of elevations through the park is also responsible for the different levels of plant species.
The bottom valleys comprise chestnut and oak woodlands, whereas beech and spruce trees can be seen above 1,000 feet. Near the upper peaks of the Apennines, many rare species of plants can be found amongst the blueberry groves and clusters of Garofanini. These can also be found in the Orecchiella Natural Park, where lies a botanical garden serving to preserve autochthonous fauna including over 400 varieties of plants, fossils and specimens.
The park’s wildlife is also a huge source of interest for visitors. Apennine wolves, bats, buzzards, red deer and golden eagles call the park home. It is not unusual for hikers to see such animals as they trail the 28 stages of the famous 425 km Grande Escursione Appenninica (Great Apennine Excursion).
The National Park also takes up 19 km of the Via Francigena pilgrim trail which begins in Canterbury, England and ends in Rome.