This Thursday, the Regional Natural Park of Corsica celebrates its 50th anniversary in Corte. Jacky Zuccarelli worked on the PNRC from 1974 to 2015. The former head of the hiking-mountain service recalls the beginnings of the GR20 and the evolution of a trail that has seen its audience increase over the years.
Created under the leadership of François Giacobbi in May 1972, the Corsica Regional Natural Park (PNRC) celebrates its 50th anniversary this Thursday, October 13, in Corte.
Hired at the Park in 1974, Jacky Zuccarelli worked there for over 40 years. First guide-instructor, then head of the mountain hiking service since 1997, he participated in particular in the development of the GR20 trail.
“When I started working at the Park, there were four sector heads and sixteen monitor guides. We were about twentyto remember the Cortenais retired in 2015. In the beginning, we were creating something. It was new and great” Jacky Zuccarelli rewinds.
When extinguishing the 50 candles of the PNRC, the former guide-instructor of the GR20 goes back in time and fixes his gaze on a path “frequented at the time by rare experienced hikers and shepherds in transhumance”.
France 3 Corse: When you joined the PNRC in 1974, you were one of the first agents to develop and structure the GR20. How was your mission?
Jacky Zucarelli: Since the beginning of the Park, our first mission was to carry out the GR20 itinerary. Originally, it was the mountaineer Michel Fabrikant who made the first route. The Park took over. The first thing was to reconnoitre the route, starting from Calenzana to reach Conca. Then, we proceeded to mark and remove make-up to maintain the trail. Then there was the recognition on the ground in relation to the number of stages. We had set an average of between 5 and 7 hours of walking for each of them.
Did you also participate in the assembly of the various shelters?
Two had already been built: one in Campiglione in 1972, the other in Petra Piana shortly before the birth of the Park. We then located other shelters as we went along so that we could carry out these steps. We follow your entire construction. The last one that was made is that of Tighjettu. The Altore refuge was burned down and we made an Asco-refuge stopover in Tighjettu, in the city of Albertacce. It was in the mid-1980s.
When you started to demarcate and structure the GR, what was the level of service?
At the beginning of the GR, we found very few people on the trail. In Corsica, it was not like today, very few people went hiking. It happened much later. People were content to make domes. The Niulinchi made the Cinto, the Cortenais the Rotondu. I remember spending a month at the Campiglione refuge with 5-6 people maximum. In general, they were foreigners, especially Austrians and Germans. On the other hand, there were many pastors in the transhumance. The Campiglione refuge notably served as a shelter for Niolu and Deux-Sorru breeders. They could feed their animals, watch them and sleep up there.
Was the Park at the origin of the process?
In the beginning, it was one of our missions. We had to help the shepherds renovate the pens and casgili. There was a tripartite agreement between the Park, the municipality where the structure was located and the creator. The Park was responsible, with the former Departmental Directorate of Agriculture and Forestry, for the financing of materials, helicopters and labour. We did this to promote transhumance. Just over 300 operations of this type have already been carried out by the Park. For us, it was great working at GR.
When the GR started to develop, what was the profile of the hikers?
They were highly equipped people, experienced in the mountains. They left with very heavy suitcases, big shoes. They were really mountain dwellers, especially the Germans and Austrians. Afterwards, the hike started to feel some excitement and the mayonnaise took over quite quickly throughout the GR.
When did you notice a real change in care?
It started in the mid 1980’s. There were a few people but it wasn’t big. In the beginning, people went hiking with suitcases for a week or 15 days. There were no supplies in the shelters. Afterwards, things really changed, especially when the hikers were able to stock up at the shelters. People had lighter bags than in the beginning, when it was very difficult. As a guide, at the time, we sometimes went out for 10 days with everything in our suitcases. It was the same for hikers.
How did the Park adapt to this change in service?
Above all, it was the structures that had to be adapted. When we started to get busy, the Paliri refuge, which had about twenty places, quickly became obsolete. Petra Piana and her 28 seats too. Similar to Campiglione. Today is definitely different…
At the time, did you think GR could become as attractive as it is today?
At first, not at all. We thought we would only have a few people. Then, little by little, we saw the extent it was taking. Like it or not, today we bite our finger, but in the beginning, we did it to bring people in and give the economy a little boost. There were jobs on the line, with park rangers and agents who would later work on other missions as the structure developed. It should be recognized that the GR also contributed to the Park’s finances. So we also wanted there to be more people. But there, now, there are many, because everyone knows and talks about the GR20.
The “Mare a Mare” and “Mare è Monti” trails were also developed by the Park. Did they help lighten up the GR a bit?
We also present them at fairs, with trails between villages. That was twenty years ago. But when people came to the booth, they were like, “Hello, we are coming to the GR20“. It was the flagship and also a leader of losses. The trail is very beautiful and very difficult. People tell themselves “I did the GR, couldn’t I do the “Mare a Mare” or the “Mare è Monti” that will be easier?“There are also well-equipped structures. And thanks to the GR20, more and more people come to ride these two trails that were developed in the 1980s. Afterwards, the GR20 remains the GR20. Its beauty and diversity are unique, not for mention your difficulty.
The “dare to take” or “record to beat” side has also developed over time…
Yup. I saw people come to Conca and say “We achieved !“. Today there are people who go to the GR with a small suitcase and do it in three or four days. They triple the stages in a day. This used to be very rare. The trail has also developed a lot in recent years, which also contributed to making the GR 20 is better known. Before, when I said I was a privateer abroad, people would say “Napoleon”, now they say “GR20”.
When you see the trail traffic today, how do you feel?
Maybe I’ll be criticized later, but for me it’s not about overcrowding. You have to adapt the structures to the world that passes through the GR. As for the establishment of quotas, it depends on the locations. At Lac de Melo, everyone starts at Grotelle, so it can be less difficult to assemble. In GR it is different. You can leave from Calenzana, Bonifato, Asco, Grotelle, Verghju, Soccia etc. How do you expect people to be blocked or counted? Inside the Park, there are reservations for the refuges, but many people arrive without having a reservation. They have their tent. Regulating is sometimes harder than you think…
What do you think we could do? Expand shelters?
I don’t think the solution is only in the shelters, even if some are obsolete and need to be redone. People are also happy to sleep in their tents. The important thing, therefore, are the places where the tents are set up and, above all, the sanitary facilities. We must be able to accommodate people, around the shelters, with toilets and dry showers. By grouping them together, we avoid pollution in different places and wild camping. Right at the beginning of the Park there were no restrooms, but there were 10 people per month on the trail. This represented less of a problem than it is today. So you have to adapt even if it’s complicated.
The Park celebrates half a century of existence. How do you see the action of this union where you worked for four decades?
At first, it is true that there were not many of us. Even so, we were able to carry out our missions without any problems. We were 20 years old, but versatile. We did the field, but also the school activities. We sensitize children, show the species, they received slides. We had an educational role. Then there were scientists who took care of the different species.
Today is different because the missions have expanded. The Park also became a laboratory with the reintroduction of deer, the release of mouflons, studies carried out on the bearded vulture. Many things have been done scientifically. Not to mention that it has not only the field side, but also everything related to administrative files, European funding that is quite rigid. All this is still a lot of work.