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Pieniny National Park

Location, area, history
Pieniny National Park is situated in the Pieniny Mountains, in the southern part of Poland, in Nowy Sącz Province, on the Polish-Slovak boarder. The Pieniny are divided into Pieniny Spiskie, Pieniny Właciwe (where the Park lies) and Małe Pieniny. The Park's area is 2,346 ha, out of which 1,292 ha (55%) are owned by the State. Forests cover 1,649 ha (70%). 777 ha (33%) are placed under a strict protection. The intiative of the Park's establishment came from Prof. Władysław Szafer. The first private nature reserve was established by S. Drohojowski in 1921 around the ruins of Czorsztyn Castle. It had the area of 7.5 ha. In 1928 purchase of land from private owners started and in 1932 they became a special unit of state forests known as the "National Park in the Pieniny Mountains", which had the area of 736 ha. The Park was reactivated after the World War 2, in 1955 under the name of "Pieniny National Park".

Geology, geomorphology and soils
The Pieniny are build of a variety of limestone. Cornstone, the hardest type of limestone builds picturesque, almost vertical, white, rocky walls along the Dunajec river. The best known peak - Trzy Korony (Three Crowns) Three Crowns is 982 m a.s.l. and the highest peak in the whole Pieniny - Wysoka - 1,050 m a.s.l. Plain rocky walls surrounded by forests, isolated rocks often in the form of needles contrasted with rounded shapes of hills or gentle slopes covered by meadows and fields are typical features of the local landscape. As a result of the diversified geological structure, various development stages of mineral and organic soils are found in the Park. The soils differ from very shallow to very thick, from stony to loamy, from acidic to alkaline. The two most common soil types are calcareous and brown soils.

The area described lies within the Dunajec river catchment zone and it is dehydrated by a network of short streams, 0.3 to 0.4 km of length. 377 natural water sources have been registered in the Pieniny: 290 of them have permanent nature (including 3 mineral water springs) while 79 are bog-springs. The Dunajec river plays an important role among the factors shaping the relief of the Pieniny Mountains.

The Polish part of the Pieniny occupies the area of only nearly 100 sq. km but there have been registered 1,015 species of vascular plants (almost 50% of species recorded in the entire Polish flora), up till now, 400 species of algae, 330 species of mosses and liverworts, 400 species of lichens. Fungi are found in a great variety - 500 species of mushrooms and 560 species of fungi micro-organisms parasitic to plants. A specific feature of the Pieniny's flora is its great ecological and geographical diversity. Species of opposite habitat requirements, belonging to different ecological and geographical formations are found here growing close to each other, often on the same rock, in different exposure conditions. The distinctive character of the Pieniny flora is defined by the presence of endemic species and geographical relicts. Endemic species include: Taraxacum pieninicum and Erysimum pieninicum. A great curiosity of the Pieniny flora is Chrysanthemum Zawadzki. There is an exceptional variety of orchids (about 30 species), including a Mediterranean Ophrys muscifera and the largest Polish orchid - ladies' slipper. 12 natural and 9 artificial plant ecosystems were described in the Park. The latter have formed under the influence of agricultural activity and are currently considered to be very important for scientific and aesthetic reasons. At present, over 70% of the Park area is covered by forests. The most common forest ecosystems are: Carpathian beech forest, thermophilous fir and beech forests, sycamore forest with Scolopendrium vulgare, relict pine forests and Carpathian alder carrs. Geobotanic distinctiveness of the Pieniny is proved by the non-forest ecosystems. Grasslands are very rich is species (150 species of vascular plants and over 25 species of mosses and lichens). Meadows were created and maintained by Man and belong to the richest plant ecosystems in the country (30-40 floral species per sq. m).

To date, about 6,500 animal species have been found but presumably as many as 13,000 to 15,000 species live here (which constitute almost a half of Polish fauna). Thorough research of fauna, mainly invertebrate, conducted between 1971 and 1974 revealed 3,000 species new for the Pieniny, many of which were also new for Polish fauna. Some scientifically new species were also found. South-European, in particular xero-thermophilous fauna is represented here insignificant numbers. Dunajec river & Three Crowns In the Pieniny there are stated 26 species of fish, 10 amphibian species, and 6 reptile species. Birds are very well investigated; 95 out of 160 species found in the area are nesting species. Rarities include: eagle owl, wall-creeper, rock thrush, pygmy owl, three-toed woodpecker, black woodpecker, and black stork. There are 60 species of mammals listed, the most interesting of which is Apodemus microps - a steppe element. Other interesting species include Alpine shrew and Crocidura suaveolens. The largest predator is lynx. The Dunajec river banks are the home for river otter.

Material culture and tourism
Traces of the Palaeolithic settlements in the Pieniny come from the period between 13 - 10 thousand years BC. Settlements in historical times go back to 1257 when Princess Kinga became an owner of this land and founded in 1280 the St. Clara Convent in Stary Sącz. It was also a period when the Pieniny Castle was built as the highest located (779 m a.s.l.) castle in Poland. The castle played the role of a refuge. Two other castles were built on both sides of the tracts running along the Dunajec river: Wronin (today called Czorsztyn) on the Polish side, and Dunajec (currently called Niedzica) on the Hungarian side. The castles have been standing up till now, divided by the valley of the Dunajec, changed since 1997 in the set of water reservoirs. There are 33 km of tourist trails delineated in the Park, leading through the highest peaks (Sokolica, Trzy Korony) and giving a chance to enjoy wide panoramas over the Pieniny, the Dunajec river, and the Tatra Mountains. The main attraction for visitors is a flow down the Dunajec river on a raft.