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Iron Curtain: minefield to greenbelt

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Here on the shores of the shallow, reed-bordered Lake Ferto, Hungarian park officials and their colleagues at Austria's Neusiedler See National Park coordinate management of fish, wildlife, farms, forests - and vacationing families, bicyclists, and student groups. Inside the park, farmers tend hundreds of gray cattle in restored grasslands favored by herons.

There's also a recent historical attraction: a monument and a series of interpretive signs strung along the former Iron Curtain here in Fertorakos that draw thousands of visitors each year. It was at this remote border crossing that Hungary allowed hundreds of East Germans to flee west in August 1989, setting in motion a series of events that culminated in the collapse of the Berlin Wall three months later. But even before that day, the Hungarian portion of the frontier was more open than that of its harder-line Communist neighbors.

"Unlike other parts of the frontier zone, this area was not a completely empty place," says Laszlo Karpati, director of the Hungarian park, who points out that there were some agricultural fields and a small village, Fertoujlak, inside the zone. "We have been able to build on this history to balance nature protection and local development."

It's a model greenbelt organizers would like to replicate in the swaths of former borderland between national parks and nature reserves. Mr. Terry envisions a bottom-up approach, with farmers and other landowners voluntarily participating in programs to use their land in an ecologically friendly manner. His organization is busy identifying possible projects, securing funding, and putting together a land-use map of the vast corridor.

The greenbelt follows the Russo-Finnish border, skips over the Baltic Sea to the former dividing line between East and West Germany and the Western borders of former Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. It then splits: One fork follows Bulgaria's southern frontier, the other follows the Macedonia-Greece border and then encircles Albania, whose Communist leaders feared invasions from all sides.

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