LET’S FOLLOW THE PATH OF NATURE TRAILS
Nowadays we spend a lot of time at home trying to avoid contact with other people. However, spending time in nature is essential for our health. Do you know where you can take a walk, discover hidden places and curiosities, and even learn something new? We talked to Ivan Ružek from the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the CU about nature trails in Slovakia and about a webpage naucnechodniky.eu, created in cooperation with colleagues from the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology.
By: CU Public Relations Office
What is a nature trail?
Nature trail is an educational, usually tourist trail of any length, traditionally crossing a naturally, culturally, or regionally interesting area. It is marked in the country and on the map by a specific tourist sign. Along the trail there are information boards with illustrations and descriptions of interesting phenomena – these are a source of information about that piece of the country, local cultural and historical sites and personalities, protection of nature and the environment, and current as well as past activities of people in the area.
Who builds nature trails?
A nature trail may be built by various subjects. They were originally built by state organizations for protection of nature. Nowadays, these trails are issued by municipalities, Forests Slovakia, various civic associations, societies and authorities responsible for nature conservation areas.
How do teachers and students of the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the CU help with creation of nature trails?
Teachers and scientists at the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the CU actively take part in the process of creation of nature trails either as experts asked to create and evaluate the contents of information boards or as active members of various societies and associations who design and build thematically oriented nature trails. Students actively participate in the creation of nature trails by the means of their theses. A few nature trails inspired by an idea from a thesis have been already created. While writing their theses, the students also participate on evaluation of the use of nature trails in practice, especially for educational purposes and tourism.
Nature trails are an ideal combination of movement and learning. What types of nature trails do we have in Slovakia and how do we classify them?
Apart from the “classic” nature trails generally containing information about nature, history, or culture built in the 20th century by state environmental agencies, nowadays the more popular ones are thematically organized trails. For example, the authors of mining natural trails depict the natural and historical heritage connected to ore and mineral mining in Slovakia. Forest nature trails are aimed for the presentation of the forest from the point of view of foresters and show ways of growing plants and forest management. Historical and archeological trails are built mostly by civic associations at archeological sites (castles, fortifications) to present the results of archeological research and explanation of the life of our ancestors across various historical periods. Beekeeping trails are focused on the importance of bees for people and the environment. Nature trail can also be classified according to other criteria such as length, type of route (self-access, linear, one way, summer), type of transport (on foot, bicycle, boat), difficulty, target group (public, the young – e.g. school trip, and specified – for experts).
How many nature trails do we have in Slovakia?
It is estimated that there are approximately 600 educational nature trails and their number increases steadily. It is practically impossible to tell the current number of trails now.
Since nature trails are not built only by state and municipal institutions, but also by various civic associations, it is problematic to secure a systematic care for already built nature trails or have a unified methodic for their maintenance. That is the same reason why there is no central database of nature trails. We can find out the approximate number by terrain research, from information published in the press, on the internet or social media. Many nature trails, especially those built as a part of a short-term project, have unfortunately only ephemeral character. Without necessary permanent maintenance, they are destined for fast decay under the influence of natural elements. Luckily, most of the trails are maintained and regularly renewed.
Together with your colleagues you created a website called naucnechodniky.eu. Why did you create the website?
Our department has been focusing on propagation of scientific knowledge on a long-term basis by the means of projects and publications. We feel insufficient layman awareness especially in the field of so-called inanimate nature. Because of the absence of awareness about the location, state, and quality of natural trails we decided to modernize our previous version of an internet database of natural trails in Slovakia. Until now we have published approximately 350 nature trails from our collection. The texts and pictures are constantly being updated also in cooperation with the public or from initiative of the authors of nature trails. Every description of a nature trail includes, apart from the basic information, also a description of natural, environmental and cultural-historic curiosities located close to the trail. Interactive website naucnechodniky.eu is aimed for laymen as well as expert public. Its primary target group are schools.
We usually go travelling abroad but in this situation we have an opportunity to explore the beauties of Slovakia. How should we choose a nature trail?
Now, in the times of pandemic, we should choose trails close to our house. We have a great opportunity to explore our region and unknown or overlooked natural and historical treasures at a slower pace. One can choose according to one’s own interests and hiking possibilities. On the website you can find trails according to administrative districts, natural areas, thematical focus, and other criteria.
It’s been 60 years since the first Slovak nature trail was opened in Pieniny National Park. How has the attitude of people changed since then? Were people more active in the past than they are now?
In the past nature trails were built by state organizations and their structure and form was more or less identical. Trails were built primarily as tourist routes in frequented localities attractive for tourists. Their number was limited to a few dozens, they were regularly renewed and maintained. Currently, most of the trails are built by municipalities and various associations. People are more creative in the process of creation of trails and try to promote curiosities of the region to the public. A nature trail is also a good tool for presentation of noble activities of an association, society or organization. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to create a trail that would meet all the necessary parameters – functional long-term signs in the terrain, technical realization, correctness of content, adequateness and attractivity, and especially a long-life span. The current interest in nature trails and their use in tourism is considerable, which is mirrored also in a high and constantly increasing turnout at the website naucnechodniky.eu.