Forged by Volcanoes, Kamchatka Offers Majestic, Magnetic Wilds

Given its mesmerizing beauty, it is little wonder that Kamchatka attracts visitors, but the number that it can support is now the focus of an intense debate because a Russian tycoon wants to erect a tourist village.

Sold as an “Eco-park,” it would offer summer and winter sports, including walks on wooden viewing paths near the Mutnovsky, Gorely and Vilyuchinsky volcanoes. The proposed 1,000 rooms would accommodate some 400,000 visitors annually, two to three times the current number.

Kamchatkans are divided. Businessmen say it would provide jobs and kick start a halting tourism industry.

Mr. Ozerov, the volcanologist, endorsed the tourist village, too. The park would expose people to his beloved volcanoes, he said, plus it is more ecologically friendly than industrial development projects.

Kamchatka is rich in deposits of minerals and metals including platinum, gold, silver, nickel and copper. Gas and coal are being exploited as well. Some locals said the mines represent a greater threat than more tourists, especially since environmental inspectors rarely access mining areas.

The investors want to own the land for the hotel project, however, which would require removing it from a locally protected nature preserve. Conservationist organizations call that a dangerous precedent.

“We need to protect not only Kamchatka, but nature in Russia in general,” said Roman Korchigin, deputy director for Ecotourism and Education at the Kronotsky Reserve. “If we start moving the boundaries, in the future we will start looking for reasons to move more.”

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