It has been one of those years in which, if I didn't have any photographs,…
I stepped out just before sunrise. A warm air was flowing up the valley. I took a quick bath in the cold stream and then sat by the fire, drinking coffee and waiting for the sunlight to touch Nizna Bystra, a peak across the valley. Several jays were playing on the edge of a spruce stand where it opened onto a 10-year old clear cut that was filling in with deciduous trees. Later, after a morning snack I sat with Vlado and Gudrun of the European Wilderness Society on a rise near the river. We ate cranberries growing along the streambanks. The water was clean enough to drink – although it was so cold it hurt my teeth. The haze and moisture in the air deflected the sunlight in such a way that there were silhouettes in literally every direction. The forests on the hilltops above were black masses of spikes against the white background and the mist curled between the trees like ghosts. By late morning, the mist had burned off, the sky was blue and the air was hot and heavy with humidity. From down lower in the valley, when the wind blew just right, we could hear the sounds of chainsaws.
The management of Tatras National Park is extraordinarily complex. In communist times the park was nationalized but after the collapse of communism and Slovakia’s break the the Czech Republic, the land was returned to the individual landowners, the hunting organizations and the cooperative landowner associations that appeared again, wanting a piece of the pie the park offered.
And so what you have in the Račkova Valley is a situation where a multitude of landowners and associations control different portions of the land and all have varying interests. Some want to see the land returned to the wild, some wish to have private cabins while others wish to see the area logged. The park management has plans to place the upper portions of the valley under a strict zoning criteria that somewhat resembles what we think of as “wilderness” in North America. Slovakia Wilderness. A dream for many people in the region. That plan has been on the books for 15 years. However, it hasn’t happened yet because of conflicts with the varying owners and in that time (about 10 years ago) the upper portions of the valley were logged. Now, the lower section is being logged and the entrance to the valley is choked with trucks and machinery tearing up muddy roads into forest.
All of this within the National Park.
The valley was shaped by glaciers and the vegetation is still influenced by the work of winter. You can see that where the dwarf pine masses just below avalanche chutes. Nothing other than the short flexible pine can survive the frequent avalanches that flood from one side of the valley to the next during the winter. Everything else is swept away. Between the avalanche paths however is where you’ll find pretty much every other tree species that grows in the area from spruce to maple to elm and even some beech.
In the far back of this picture is a ridge line that marks the Polish-Slovakian border. We hiked up a very steep incline to reach the ridge. The sky was clear all the way up but once we hit the top a thick mass of clouds rolled up the slope we had just climbed and tumbled over the ridge, obscuring the green valleys of Poland below. Even with the clouds the air was warm and humid. There were masses of small flies.
From the ridge line you can’t see what is being done in the lower reaches of the valley. Time has begun to heal the ten year old logging on the upper portion and if a better management plan can be worked out with the landowner associations, hopefully one day this will all heal and become wild once more.