Pieninski National Park
The Pieninski National Park was founded in January 1955. It is one of smaller parks with the area of 2,346 ha and 2,682 ha of buffer zone. A truly unique natural feature of the Pieninski National Park is the Dunajec River Gorge, which is one of the most beautiful in Europe. Rafting down the Dunajec River, through the Gorge, is a major tourist attraction, recommended in all guidebooks. The closest tourist center and health spa is Szczawnica-Kroscienko. On the Park's border there are two famous castles, in Czorsztyn and in Niedzica, both clearly visible from many spots in the Park. Adjacent to this park is the Pieniny National Park on a territory of the Slovak Republic.
The symbol of the Park are the three peaks of the Trzy Korony (Three Crowns) massif.
The Pieninski National Park is unusual in many respects. Its small area boasts a unique landscape and natural features. A narrow strip of klippen rocks, which has developed into relatively low but picturesque Pieniny Mountains range, extends as a belt along the boundary line between the Outer and the Central Western Carpathians. The limestone rocks of this belt, throughout millenia, have been weathered into round shapes from the north and the dramatic, high cliffs on the southern side. The massif of the Trzy Korony (Three Crowns), whose highest peak Okraglica rises to a height of 982 m above sea level, is highest in the range. Some other spectacular peaks include Sokolica (Falcon Cliff), Ostra Skala (Sharp Cliff) and Grabczycha, all towering over the Dunajec River.
The Dunajec River, which is a tributary of the Vistula River, has incised a narrow and sharply winding gorge in rocks. This is the most glorious part of the Pieniny Mountains. The Dunajec River and most of its tributaries rise in the Tatra Mountains. Two dams have recently been constructed - at Niedzica Castle and at Sromowce Wyznie - as a protective measure against the danger of severe floods, which have occurred in this region in past, as well as to generate power. Both dams and their water reservoirs operate below their full capacity as the construction work is still in progress. In March 1975, Czechoslovakia and Poland corrected their border along the Dunajec River, to allow for the construction of the dams.
The plant kingdom in the Park is represented by a wealth of species. The forests are made up of fir, beech, larch, and spruce trees, offering a dazzling display of colors in the fall. This Park is home to plants, which are rare in Poland, as for example Carlina acaulis and the mountain arnica (Arnica montana). Many plants are endemic to Pieniny region, and those include a cress Erysimun pieninicum.
The animal kingdom of the Park is also rich. This Park is home to the lynx, wildcat, wolf, stag and many other animals. There are numerous colonies of bats (14 species), of which the most interesting is Miniopterus schreibersi - the only animal common to both Poland and Australia. They find convenient winter quarters in the limestone caves. The eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) may often be seen majestically circling over the massif of Trzy Korony. The Pieniny Mountains are a paradise for any entomologist. The most fascinating among numerous butterflies here is the Parnassius apollo with its white wings, decorated by black lines and red spots.
For the lasts 150 years rafting down the Dunajec Gorge has been a must of any tour program bringing people to this area. The trip begins at the raft wharf located in Sromowce-Katy, while entire 8-km journey ends up in Szczawnica. There are 250 rafts in operation, each taking 10 passengers and steered by two local raftsmen. A silent run, lasting 2-3 hours, reveals many wonders in an undisturbed environment of the Gorge's bottom, offering for example, close encounters with rare black stork and other birds and animals.
This trip is a major, but not the sole attraction of the Park. A number of hiking trails offer short but beautiful walks throughout the Pieniny Mountains and their less frequented parts known as Male (Small) and Spiskie (Spis's) Pieniny. Some of these walks, for example path leading up the Pieniny's skyline, offer breathtaking vistas into Dunajec River Gorge and other deeply cut valleys. Two picturesque castles at Czorsztyn (ruins) and Niedzica, which are embedded into a mosaic of woods and fields, add to the charm of the area. More leisurely activities would certainly include a drive to any of the area's old wooden churches such as for example Debno Podhalanskie, Grywald or Trybsz.
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