Lithuania’s nature is as beautiful as it is diverse. The country’s national parks reflect the landscape and culture of its large geographical areas. The thirty regional parks protect and represent the most valuable ecosystems and cultural treasures of different regions from natural, ethno cultural, recreational and aesthetic points of view. The wide variety of wildlife in the parks includes the protected species of animals listed in THE RED DATA BOOK (Lithuania’s endangered species list), and rare plants.
Research programmes are bbeing carried out in the parks’ sanctuaries and reserves. Large areas have been designated as recreational sites.
Rash urban development in the second half of this century has reached even the remotest parts of the country. Therefore, the areas of unspoilt nature conserved in the parks serve as an excellent example of the efforts of conservationists and environmentalists. But it is the foresters and rangers who have shouldered the responsibility for looking after the natural treasures in the parks.
Reserves cover approx 12% of the country’s territory. Reserves are protected areas of ecological reservation priority and protected areas of restorative protection, which are aimed at the restoration, multiplication and protection of natural resources. In four reserves – Cepkeliai, Kamanos, VViesvile and Zuvintas – 35 wild animal, 200 bird, 11-20 fish and 600-800 flora species are under protection. A special permit is required to enter these reserves.
2.1. Aukstaitija National Park
Lithuania’s first national park – Aukstaitija National Park – was designated in 1974 and covers an area of 40570 hectares in the regions of Ignalina, Utena and Svencionys. Over 70 per cent of its territory is pine stands, including the ancient woods of Azvinciai, Mincia and Linkmenos. Some of the pine trees in Azvinciai wood are over 200 years old and the oaks of Trainiskis, Kaltanenai and Varniskiai are the remains of the ancient oak-tree forests that once covered large territories here. The park represents a picturesque forested and hilly tterrain abounding in lakes and having ethnographic villages; it contains quite a lot of other cultural monuments.
Scattered among the woods and hills are some 100 smaller and larger lakes, often interconnected by rivulets and streams. The largest of them is Lake Dringis (721 ha). Lake Tauragnas, the deepest in Lithuania (60.5 m deep) is also here. The Baluosas features seven islands, one of which has a little lake of its own, feeding the Baluosas waters through a small stream. <
Of some thirty rivers on the territory of the park, Zeimena is the most beautiful, although the smaller ones – Kriauna, Lukna, Buka, Sventele, Stregzda – are no less attractive to tourists, linguists and ethnographers alike.
The woods, marshes and meadows of Aukstaitija National Park abound in rare plant species, including a number of plants that are listed in the Red Data Book of Lithuania and are protected as endangered species. The woods of the park are the domain of elk, deer and wild boar. The lakes and rivers, too, are rich in wildlife, from Canadian mink to a variety of birds that can bring quite a few exciting moments to a devoted birdwatcher.
The park’s territory embraces some 80 settlements and villages, some of which have retained not only their old original layout but also archaic wooden farm buildings and other structures. Paluse village, which is the tourist centre of the Aukstaitija National Park, was first mentioned in written sources in 1651. It still boasts an octagonal wooden church dating back to 1757. Paluse is the starting point of most of the tourist routes, both shorter and longer walks and a rowing-boat route along a system of lakes and sstreams connecting them.
2.2. Dzukija National Park
Dzukija National Park was designated in 1991 in the region of Varena. Its aim is to protect the landscape, the old villages, historical and cultural monuments, and forests of southeastern Lithuania. The park’s territory is 55 thousand hectares, 85 per cent of which is covered by woods. The pine stands make up 90% of the forestland. The park contains 12 historical, 25 archaeological, 10 architectural and 35 art monuments.
Among the historical attractions of Dzukija National Park, the ancient town of Merkine and the village of Liskiava are of greatest interest. Merkine dates back to the 14th century and is situated at the confluence of the Nemunas and Merkys rivers. Merkine castle hill, which gave the rise to the town, offers an unforgettable view of the Nemunas valley and surrounding woodland.
Liskiava, which can be easily reached by boat or by bus from Druskininkai, is a settlement on the bank of the Nemunas, surrounded by numerous legends and folk tales. Most of them are connected with the Liskiava castle hill, on top of which one can still see remnants of the 14-century castle.
Besides Liskiava, there are a number of other old villages – some dating back to tthe 16th century – that have retained the traditional layout of forest villages and architecture of buildings. The inhabitants of many of them still excel in the traditional folk crafts: weaving, woodcarving and pottery.
Pinewoods, which dominate in the Dzukija National Park, abound in mushrooms and berries and have since long ago, had been a source of extra income for the local people. Among the mushrooms most sought after are edible boletus and chantarelle. The latter are gathered in large quantities and even exported abroad. Wild strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, and red bilberries are the most widely spread kind of berries found on the territory of the park.
The park’s bird life boasts a number of rare eagles, including Haliaelus albicilla, Pandion haliaetus, and Circaetus galiccus, and the forests are the habitat of considerable populations of elks, deer, wild boars, foxes, wolves, and hares. A number of protected plant species are found in the park, too. The administrative centre of the park is Marcinkonys. It can be reached by bus or by train.
2.3. Kursiu Nerija National Park
Covering an area of 18 thousand hectares, the Kursiu Nerija National Park was designated to protect the unique scenic beauty of the Kursiu Nerija, a narrow peninsula separating
the Kursiu Marios (Curonian Lagoon) from the Baltic Sea. The peninsula, a sandy stretch of land extending 98 kilometres, with the width varying from 400 meters to 3.8 kilometres, was formed some five to six thousand years ago, as sand accumulated in the shallower waters along the Baltic coast.
The sea winds shifted the sand, creating a range of large sand dunes stretching for about 70 kilometres from Smiltyne to Sarkuva. The largest of the dunes, such as the Sklandytoju, the AAngiu Kalno, and the Urbo Kalno ones are up to 1000 meters high and provide a charming view of the sea, the lagoon and the green forests.
Up to the 15th century both deciduous and coniferous forests covered the spit. Later, however, the axe felled large portions of them. This lead to severe sand shifting. The moving sands swallowed up 14 villages. It was in 1825 that G.D. Kuvertas started the first reforestation project to try to stop the sand. At tthe present time life on the spit is protected by about 7 thousand hectares of forests, most of them pinewoods.
The settlements situated on the spit boast of original architecture, typical to this region. In Juodkrante, the first stop on the rroad from the northern tip Nida, the peninsula’s administrative centre, one can see a number of old fishermen’s houses that are protected as architectural monuments. The other settlements before Nida are Pervalka and Preila, typical fishing villages. Nida is the largest and most beautiful of the Lithuanian settlements on the spit. 37 rare plant species grow on the spit. Some of them are listed in the Red Book of Lithuania: Eryngium maritimum, Glaux maritina, Aster tripolium and Erica tetralix. Kursiu Nerija has 2.600 residents. All settlements contain etnographic architectural monuments; the old part of Nida has been pronounced an urbanistic monument.
The Kursiu Nerija National Park stands out among the other parks of Lithuania. Because of ecological concerns, access to the sspit is restricted. Visitors can obtain information and book a guided tour of the park in Klaipeda.
2.4. Trakai National Park
The Trakai National Park was designated in 1992 to embrace the historic city of Trakai, some 25 kilometres outside Vilnius, and the forests, lakes and villages in its environs. The total area of the park is 82 sq. kilometres. The most valuable monuments in the park are the Trakai insular castle, the remnants of the peninsula castle and the ancient site oof the Senieji Trakai (Old Trakai) castle with a church and village. It was to the castle of Senieji Trakai that, according to old chronicles, the Grand Duke Gediminas transferred the capital of Lithuania in the 14th century. It was also there that the greatest Lithuanian ruler if all times, Grand Duke Vytautas was borne. Later, the capital was transferred to the castle situated on a peninsula between the lakes of Lukas and Galve. The castle was presumably one of the largest in Lithuania of those times and served as residence for a number of Lithuanian rulers before the insular castle was constructed a short distance away on an island of Lake Galve. It became the stronghold and residence of a number of Grand Dukes of Lithuania, including Kestutis and Vytautas. It was there that Vytautas died in 1430. Ruined during the wars in the 18th century, the castle is nearing ...
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