PARKS AND NATIONAL RESERVES

1. Introduction

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 beeing 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 coover 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, Viesvile and Zuvintas &#

#8211; 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. Maintenance

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 terrain abounding in lakes and having ethnographic villages; it contains quite a lot of other cultural moonuments.
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 &#

#8211; 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 streams 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 ol
ld 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 the 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, wh
hich 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 Angiu 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 the 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 road 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 spit 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 of 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 its restoration and houses an impressive History Museum at the present time.
Trakai is a small town, its main attraction being the old part, notable for the wooden houses built by the Karaites, a tribe of Turkic people who were brought to Lithuania by Grand Duke Vytautas from the Crimea and who served as his bodyguards. The Karaites’ house of worship, a kinessa, and a museum of Karaite culture are places worth visiting.
In and around Trakai there are about 20 lakes, the largest of them being Lake Galve, an established centre of water sports in Lithuania. Lakes occupy almost one-fifth of the park area. Forests take up one-third of the park territory. Trakai is increasingly becoming one of Lithuania’s busiest recreation zones, hosting a number of international events every year, like the hot air balloon festival of 1990.
The environs of Trakai, with old villages and ancient castle hills, attract not only those interested in history but also numerous lovers of nature. In the Varnikai – Ilgelis and Plomenai nature reserves one can find a number of rare species of birds and plants. Over 300 thousand people visit the Trakai National Park every year.
2.5. Cepkeliai Reserve
The Cepkeliai Reserve lies in the middle of the Gudu Wood in southern Lithuania. Cepkeliai is Lithuania’s largest marsh and the aim of the reserve is to protect one of the oldest and most unique marshes, its continental dunes, overgrown with forest, its relict lakes, its natural hydrological regime and its fauna and flora.
The reserve was established in 1975. Its total area is 8477 hectares, of which 2725 hectares are covered with forest and 5687 hectares are marshlands. In the central part of the upland moor there are 21 lakes.
The specific nature of the plant and animal life in the reserve is predetermined by the diversity of biotopes. Plants characteristic of marshlands dominate in the reserve. They include Oxyccocus palustralis, Eriophorum vaginatum, Ledum palustre, etc. The islands of the swamp and the surrounding forests abound in a variety of berries: Vaccinium vitis – idaea, Vaccinium myrtillus, and Vaccinium uliginosum. Cepkeliai is one of the two places in Lithuania where Epipogium appylum is found.
Large areas of swamps and the pinewoods growing on the infertile soils surrounding them provide specific, often unfavourable conditions for the wildlife. The number of mammals found in the reserve is not large. About 10 families of Castor fibber live on the shores of the Katra River. Canis lupus is a constant inhabitant of the reserve. Other characteristic species are Alces alces, Capreolus capreolus and Sus scrota.
Cepkeliai is the habitat of a great variety of birds. It has one of the largest populations of Grus and Tetrao urogalus in Lithuania. It is also the domain of Circaetus gallicus, Pandion haliaetus, Haliaetus albicilla, Bubo bubo, Picus canus, etc. Of birds characteristic of marshlands, mentioned should be made of Crex crex, Pluvialis apricaria, Tringa glareola and Tringa tatanus.
Cepkeliai is the habitat of all the reptiles found in Lithuania, except one. The characteristic species are Vipera berus, Anguis fragilis, Lacerta vivipera, and Lacerta agilis. The range of insert species found in Cepkeliai is very wide, from those characteristics of the steppes to the species typical to the tundra.
2.6. Kamanos Reserve
The Kamanos Reserve on Venta plain in northern Lithuania was designated a protected area in 1979 in order to preserve the Kamanos upland bogs, occupying a territory of about 3650 hectares. Besides, a protective zone covering some 1500 hectares surrounds it. The perimeter of the marsh is 52 kilometres.
The botanists have found 556 species of higher plants and 123 species of mosses in the Kamanos Reserve. 26 of plants found in Kamanos have been included in the Red Data Book of Lithuania as rare or endangered species. The wildlife of the Kamanos Reserve includes 36 species of mammals, 120 species of birds, of which 80 hatch there, 3 species of reptiles, 6 species of amphibian and 2 species of fish. 10 species of birds found in the reserve are listed in the Red Data Book.
Not only any type of economic activity is strictly prohibited in the Kamanos Reserve, but also access to it is also very limited.
2.7. Viesvile Reserve
The Viesvile Reserve was established in April 1991 with the aim of protecting the unique natural beauty of the Viesvile river basin, the Artosios and Glicio marshlands and the Karsuva Wood.
The Viesvile Reserve is a rather autonomous and homogenous eco – system, little affected by man’s economic activity. The total area of the reserve is 3216 hectares, with another 2459 hectares making up a protective zone around it.
The reserve is situated in the Karsuva lowland, which was formed by the retreating glaciers. There are not too many streams on the territory of the reserve, although there is no shortage of ground water.
Preliminary investigations have shown that there are at least 450 species of higher plants to be found in the Viesvile Reserve. The Artoji marsh has also been designated as an ornithological reserve to protect several species of birds that hatch in it.

2.8. Zuvintas Reserve
The Zuvintas Reserve was established in 1937 with the aim of preserving the unique flora and fauna of the Zuvintas Lake and the neighbouring bogs and swamps. The reserve today comprises 7286 hectares of woodland, 4127 hectares of marshes, and 986 hectares of waters.
The Zuvintas Reserve was designated at the initiative of Professor Tadas Ivanauskas who first visited Zuvintas Lake in 1920 and was astounded by the abundance and diversity of bird life there. The lake itself is situated in the basin of the Dovine River and receives its water from the Dusia and Simnas lakes and the Kiaulycia River. The Zuvintas is a shallow lake of about 980 hectares in area.

Zuvintas Lake is the habitat of some 580 species of higher plants and 253 species of birds. 37 of the latter hatch in the lake. One of these is the mute swan, which has been chosen as the emblem of the reserve. Every autumn the lake becomes a stopover site for up to 15 thousand geese, whereas the surrounding high bogs provide shelter for some 600 herons.
The lake has a large beaver population (about 20 families) and is also the domain of Canadian mink and otter.
2.9. Kernave Reserve
Kernave – honored as being the first capital of Lithuania, Kernave was first mentioned in 1279. All that remains of the proud history of this beatific spot found on the right bank of the Neris River. Archeologists have examined the castle hills in Kernave and have determined that a strong feudal castle developed here in the 12th – 13th centuries. In this village are some hills. One of them – Mindaugo Sostas (“Mindaugas’ Throne”) – used to be called Castle Hill. To the south of Mindaugo Sostas is Aukuro Hill, on which the castle is believed to have stood. The hills are covered with legends. Since the beginning of XVI century, the town developed at the top terrace of the Neris River. It boasted an armoury for forging weapons.
In 1986, archaeologists found the remnants of an ancient city in the Pajauta Valley between the castle hills and the Neris. That city – Lower Kernave – is believed to have been the first capital of Lithuania. According to archaeologists, the first inhabitants settled in the Pajauta Valley in 8000 B.C. Lower Kernave prospered in the times of peace. However, when the attacks of the Crusaders began, the inhabitants had to leave Lower Kernave and move to the fortified halls.
The Church of the Holy Virgin Mary was erected in Kernave in 1910 – 1920. In 1987, the churchyard was decorated with stone mosaic.
Once one of the most important economic and cultural towns of Lithuania, today Kernave is an unmissable archaeological and historical museum where you see the life of the town as it was many centuries ago. Once you are in the region, don’t miss the chance to stand in the very centre of Europe, as determined in 1989 by the French National Geographical Institute. This picturesque place, 24 km north of Vilnius.

Contents

1. Introduction 2
2. Maintenance 3
2.1. Aukstaitija National Park 3
2.2. Dzukija National Park 3
2.3. Kursiu Nerija National Park 4
2.4. Trakai National Park 5
2.5. Cepkeliai Reserve 5
2.6. Kamanos Reserve 6
2.7. Viesvile Reserve 6
2.8. Zuvintas Reserve 7
2.9. Kernave Reserve 7

REFERENCES

1. http://www.info.lt/index.php?page=parkai
2. http://www.seniejitrakai.lt/about_park_lt.html
3. http://www.sviesa.lt/enciklopedija/lt.php/straipsniai/zeme/saugomos_teritorijos/
4. http://www.tourism.lt/nature/nature.htm
5. Lisauskas V. Islands of harmony. Lithuanian regional parks. Vilnius, 1998

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