Dancing Woods and Creeping Dunes
Dunes are the defining feature of the Curonian Spit’s landscape. The entire area covered by them is a sanctuary and it is therefore off limits to anyone without express approval of the park’s administration. Since at the moment the Spit is not threatened by desertification, currently the open areas of white sand dunes are not stabilized, they are open to the winds blowing mostly from the West and are moving slowly towards the Curonian Lagoon. Their terrain is constantly changing.
As the dunes are the main landmark of the National park and a symbol of the Curonian Spit, the eco-trails for tourists run along the edge of the dune ridge. In places where wind erosion is detected, the slopes are fenced using old, pre-war methods – placing fascines and planting willows – to keep walkways and observation platforms from sliding down.
The park maintains seven eco-trails and three tourist trails in total. One of these is called Korolevsky Bor (‘The Wood of Kings’); it is a forest track leading through a thicket of ancient pines and spruces to the lagoon, the domain of waterbirds. A group of artists that came here last year left behind their vision of the wood’s history. There is now a sculpture of an elk made of natural materials that greets tourists at the feeding grounds on the trail. Scattered along the old paved road are wooden wheels – a reminder of a post road that used to run here.
The Curonian Spit was once a chain of widely spaced islands, the biggest of which was called Rasyte. What used to be this island is now the rural settlement of Rybachy. The Mueller Height trail runs along the steep slope of the dune that overlooks the settlement and culminates in an ascent to a roofed observation platform that offers great views on the Baltic Sea, the Curonian Lagoon, the lake and surrounding meadows. Near the platform, there is an old commemorative stone in the honor of Herr Mueller, the Master Forester of Königsberg, who started the struggle against the creeping sands back in the late 19th century.
Another one of our trails leads to Epha Height from where you can admire the full view of the Great Dune Ridge. The mossy soil at its foot is usually all dug over by wild boars. Sometimes, you can spot roe deer or even a giant elk suddenly emerging from the woods. It’s always windy there, and you can see snow white seagulls resting on the dune slopes. The dunes are all covered with animal tracks. The white-tailed eagles soar in the sky, looking for prey. The sand is constantly shifting, and this movement is manifested visibly in the birch trees near the edge of the ridge – they are half-buried in sand, and the sand paths here and there, which are left behind by people (in some spots, it only takes a single step to destroy the thin layer of soil covering the sand).
Maintaining the balance is a full-time job. The staff of the National Park continue the cause of the first local tamers of the elements who stopped the creeping sands. Wooden walkways lead around the slope of a hill up to Epha Height, named after German scientist Wilhelm Franz Epha, who spared no effort grappling with the sand catastrophe; thanks to him, in the early 20th century, the Curonian desert was transformed into a blooming resort.
The Dancing Forest is just one of our park’s mysteries. It is so unusual and diverse that one can’t help but wonder if it is man-made. However, the force that twisted the trees here into grotesque spiral shapes was not human, and its exact origin has not been established to this day. Various theories point at insects, especially strong winds, and even witchcraft – and each tourist who visits this trail chooses his own favorite explanation.
The Fringilla bird ringing field station of the local biological research center of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Zoological Institute is open to the public from April to October. Fringilla coelebs is the Latin name of the chaffinch, one of the most common birds in this area. The station was founded in 1956, and one of its main tasks is tracking bird migrations in the Baltic Sea region, which is done by catching birds with special traps and nets and ringing them. In the sixty years of its existence, the station’s staff caught and ringed over 3 million birds belonging to two hundred species. It has been discovered that on particular days in autumn, up to two million birds fly over the Curonian Spit in the span of 24 hours!
We are taking steps to change the locals’ perception of the Curonian Spit, trying to make their approach less consumption-driven. We mostly target kids – for instance, we have resumed holding conservationism-themed summer camps and organizing forestry classes in local schools. Kids also try their hand at working within the park limits, while our ecological awareness promotion specialists explain the significance of their efforts and tell them about the history of the conservational activities on the Curonian Spit.
Each year, more and more inhabitants of Kaliningrad take part in the March of Parks held in April. Last year, over a thousand people came to the Curonian Spit to help with reinforcing the levee, renovating the wooden fences, and removing garbage from the woods. We have also cooperated with the Russian Geographical Society to launch Discovering the Sanctuary, an ecological awareness promotion project targeting the inhabitants of the Kaliningrad Region. As part of the project, we have produced a guidance manual for teachers, and environment-themed lessons are now being held in 185 schools of the Kaliningrad Region. Our efforts also included organizing tours in our National Park for 500 orphans and wards of the centers for support of children left without parental care.
Last September, we opened a free-for-all lecture hall in the Chekhov Library in Kaliningrad. The hall is used to hold public lectures on the cultural and environmental heritage of the Curonian Spit and the history of conservationism in Russia.
The park implements an annual program of classes, with some of them designed to work as guidelines for lessons in school, and others serving as basis for guided tours. Also, we celebrate ecological holidays like the Seal Day, the Birdwatching Day or the Conservationist Day by holding lectures, interactive games, and workshops. And all of this is just a few of the ecological awareness promotion methods we use to target children.
Conservationism-themed summer camps and expeditions are held regularly on the park’s grounds, serving to combine recreational activities and science. We are also planning to open the Young Tour Guides School for kids in Rybachy. This is particularly important for us because this is a way to raise a new generation of people who will live here and develop the park.
director of the Kurshskaya Kosa (Curonian Spit) National Park
Text: Dmitry Ivanov
Published on: August 24, 2018