Žalvaris park in Molėtai, north-eastern Lithuania, hardly fits into any category. The territory, almost as large as the Vatican City, exhibits 40 pieces, mostly made from waste and each with its own message.
The unique park was founded by Algirdas Nomeika 16 years ago. After he died unexpectedly, his children resolved to look after the park that was a life-long dream of their father.
The artwork exhibited in the park is mostly made from waste. Algirdas Nomeika, a son of the park’s founder who also shares his name, says that the choice of materials has a deeper meaning.
“We want people to pay attention to sustainability and demonstrate that we don’t need to consume as much as we do,” the supervisor of the park explains.
He points to ‘icebergs’ that are made of empty plastic bottles.
“There are already plastic islands in the ocean. My dad used to say that one day, icebergs will come back to our streets, but they will be made of plastic, not ice,” Nomeika says.
Bizarre, extraordinary, crazy, unique are just a few words that come to mind when trying to describe Žalvaris park. The owners, however, say that it is most often compared to Disneyland and Chernobyl.
“Disneyland because children are entertained here. We try to encourage young people to spend more time in nature and not in front of their computer screens,” Nomeika shares.
He adds that bumper cars of amusement parks draw comparison with Chernobyl, as “similar cars were left behind in Pripyat.”
The park owner shows another artwork – a gift from a Lithuanian theatre. Horses spread out in the field symbolise 12 Lithuanian victories in historic battles.
Some of the exhibits were created by Nomeika or his brother, but mostly by his father. The owner says that every visitor could create something of their own if they only wanted.
“Dad motivated us by saying that you can create something out of anything. Most works are made from garbage. I always encourage my friends to create something and exhibit it here,” says Nomeika.
Žalvaris park also offers a slide to the pond, a zipline, and other forms of entertainment. Nature enthusiasts can camp here and stay overnight. Events are also permitted.
Park visits are now free, but Nomeika says looking after a territory almost as big as the Vatican City without any income is challenging.
“I work mostly with another colleague. […] It is nice when friends from Vilnius come after work and help us tidy up. It’s extremely difficult when there is no financing, no income,” he says.
Putting a small charge on a visit to Žalvaris would also help limit the number of people coming.
“Some people enjoy [the park] but others litter and destroy the artworks. […] That is why I want the park to become more enclosed,” says Nomeika.
Nurturing somebody else’s dream is not easy, as it requires sacrificing some of one’s own aspirations, according to Nomeika. He had to leave Vilnius to live in Molėtai and look after his father’s park.
Although he sometimes considers closing the park, Nomeika believes that he and his father put too much work into it to simply abandon everything.
“Dad used to say that everyone should follow their dream without expecting for it to pay off. This was the dream – not to earn millions but to help people see something new and make them happy,” the man says.