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Tatra National Park

Location, area, history
Tatra National Park is located in the southern part of Poland, in Nowy Sącz Province, on the border with the Slovak Republic. The National Park was established in 1954 over the area of 20,973 ha. Currently, its area amounts to 21,164 ha, out of which 15,124 ha (71.5%) are forests, and 5,660 ha (26.7%) are mostly communities of alpine meadows and rock towers. Arable land (171 ha) and waters (209) occupy in total 1.8% of the Park total area. Strict protection is excercised over 11,514 ha (54.4%), out of which 6,149 ha are forest ecosystems. The need to protection of the Tatra Mountains was first realised in the end of the 19th Century. In 1925 first efforts were made together with the Slovaks towards a creation of a national park. A national park was formally established in 1937 on lands that belonged to the state forests. After the World War 2, in 1947 an independent administrative unit Tatra National Park was established. In 1993 the Tatra National Park and the Tatransky Narodni Park on the Slovak side were recognised by UNESCO as an International MaB Reserve of global importance.

Geology, geomorphology and soils
The Park embraces the youngest and the only in Poland mountains of alpine type, characterised by a diversified relief with height differences up to 1,700 m. The Tatra Mountains owe their present look mostly to the Pleistocene glaciation period. Within the last 500 - 10 thousand years glaciers appeared and disappeared in this region. The highest peak of the Polish Tatra and the Park is Rysy (2,499 m a.s.l.). The Tatra is divided into two distinctive parts. The High Tatra range (Tatry Wysokie) is built of crystalline rocks. Its landscape is characterised by post-glacial forms: sharp rock towers and crests and numerous cirques, mostly occupied by lakes. The West Tatra range (Tatry Zachodnie) was formed from crystalline and sediment rocks. Its landscape consists of e.g. many picturesque valleys with remnant rocky forms. The Park contains about 650 caves. Wielka Onie?na - Wielka Litworowa cave is the longest (18,000 m) and the deepest (814 m in depth). 6 caves are accessible for visitors.

The Park area contains many streams and about 30 lakes called "stawy" (ponds). They are an important feature of the High Tatra landscape. The largest ponds are Morskie Oko (34.5 ha of area, and 50.8 in depth) and Wielki Staw Polski (34.1 ha of area and 79.8 in depth). The lakes situated above the upper border of forest zone are characterised by very poor biological life and an unusual water transparency. The river network of the High Tatra is much more dense than in the West Tatra. The longest stream exceed 20 km of length. Waterfalls and rising springs are very often found and they are one of the Park attractions (e.g. Wodogrzmoty Mickiewicza). The largest waterfall is Wielka Siklawa (70 m).

The vertical zonation of the vegetation is a typical feature. The lower mountain forest zone (up to 1,250 m a.s.l.) is dominated by beech and fir forests. The upper mountain forest zone (up to 1,550 m a.s.l.) is mostly built of spruce forests, which gradually change into the dwarf pine and grass vegetation zone (up to 1,800 m a.s.l.). Above that, the alpine zone and rocky peaks start. The number of vascular plant species is estimated at over 1,000 species, 85 of which are protected by law. There are also about 600 species of bryophyte, 550 species of lichens, and 900 species of algae. Many plants growing in the Park are endemic to the Tatra or to the Carpathian mountains. A lot of them are rare species. Species of the highest value include: Swiss stone-pine, Tatra saxifraga (Saxifraga perdurans), Tatra larkspur (Delphinum oxysepalum), mountain avens (Dryas octopetala), Saxifraga aizoon, gentians and crocuses, and edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum), which is one the Park symbols. Well known are also rush (Juncus trifidus), and Oreochloa disticha which form an endemic alpine meadow association which turns reddish in the autumn and gives a special colour to vast mountain areas e.g. Czerwone Wierchy (Red Peaks).

The rich fauna of the Park is represented by many endemic, rare and protected species. Most interesting are the chamoix and marmot, which have been protected since the mid 19th Century, as well as brown bear, and a number of bird species, including golden eagle, falcons, wall-creeper, alpine accentor. Higher parts of the forests are inhabited by capercaillie, black grouse, and hazel grouse. Red and roe deer as well as small rodents are common in the forests.

Material culture
The material culture of the Tatra is as important component of the Tatra National Park as is the nature. It is distinctive and widely preserved and cultivated. Most valuable elements of this culture are the dialect, the costumes, and the customs. The past is documented by many great stories, shelters, chapels, and churches. A distinctive Tatra architectural style was developed here at the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Threats and tourism
In the past, the Tatra Mountains were heavily exploited. During summer, numerous herds of sheep, goats, and cows were grazing on the glades and alpine pastures. Overgrazing lead to the lowering of the upper limit of the forest zone and to the erosion processes. Between the 17th and 19th Centuries a large number of operating coal mines and smelting plants required vast amounts of timber. Tourism developed at the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries and improper forest management lead to a creation of artificial spruce mono-cultures on habitats suitable for beech and fir forests. Other threats to the natural assets of the Park include: poaching, development of sport and tourism facilities, and the economically growing town of Zakopane.

Tatra National Park covers only 0.07% of the area of Poland, it is however, each year visited by about 3 million people, which constitutes about 8% of the country population. The well developed Park infrastructure (many tourist trails, shelters, hostels) copes with this number of visitors with great difficulty. Because of the importance of the Park resources and high visitor pressure, entry fees to the Park have been introduced.