Tatra National Park in Slovakia is the largest national park of the country and is home to many unique and endangered species. The mountains and valleys, flora and fauna of this spectacular region are under protection by the national park, yet remain available for outdoor recreation. Is it possible to allow human interaction with rich nature like in the Tatra Mountains while still keeping it wild?
This article has been written in cooperation with Lukas Saville, collaborator of the 10Adventures travel website.
Opening a protected area for hiking has many benefits. When people are able to experience and enjoy the true wonders of nature, they gain a deeper appreciation for what is there and a new motivation for conservation and preservation. It is difficult to get someone emotionally invested in a place they’ve never been, and without active engagement it is difficult to preserve precious natural wonders like the Tatra National Park. Hiking in the Tatra mountains is a great way to inspire respect for nature.
And yet every human interaction with the environment carries the risk of damaging the area or taming it in some way. Hikers in the Tatras, as well as other protected areas, should be educated in the nine principles of the European Respect Nature guidelines. These common-sense principles are the key to sustainable outdoor recreation.
- Know Where You’ll Go. Plan your route ahead of time, using quality, reliable hiking guides. Carry a map with you to help with navigation and don’t just rely on your GPS or cell phone. For your safety, always make sure someone who isn’t hiking with you knows your plan and check in with them if you make any last-minute changes.
- Stay on Trails. Shortcuts and off-trail exploration might feel extra adventurous but it is both destructive and dangerous. Trampling vegetation changes the landscape for both plants and animals and can contribute to long-term damage such as erosion. Trails markings are for your safety, but are also routed through the most sustainable areas based on research and knowledge of the area. Trust the experts and hike where the trail is marked (selected trails are seasonally closed between 1st November and 14th June, see Winter closure)
- Minimise Camping Impact. In Tatra National Park, camping is only permitted in designated campgrounds. This helps minimise the impact of camping on the environment so these local regulations should always be followed. Take precautions when cooking and storing food to be sure that it is protected from wildlife, especially bears. This is for your safety and the safety of the animals.
- Keep Nature Clean. When hiking in nature, be sure that if you pack it in, you pack it in again. This includes everything, from your belongings, to food wrappers and packaging, to broken gear. It also includes toilet paper. Try to relieve yourself only in designated facilities whenever possible, but if the need should arise along the trail, stay at least 50 m away from water sources and carry a small shovel to be able to dig a hole that’s at least 15 cm deep.
- Make fire responsibly. The best way to be responsible with campfires is to avoid making them in untouched nature in the first place. In Tatra National Park, fires are not allowed outside of designated areas in campgrounds. While campfires are warm and cosy, they are destructive to nature even when kept small and under control. Be sure to follow all park regulations about fire, including not smoking during dry conditions.
- Show Respect for Nature. This should go without saying, but it bears repeating. Respect the delicate balance of the Tatras’ incredible ecosystem and avoid interfering with it. The old adage: “Leave only footprints, take only memories,” applies. Don’t pick flowers, collect acorns or rocks, or anything else. Observe and appreciate your surroundings, and leave them in place so others can do the same.
- Show Respect for Wildlife. A wide variety of wildlife call the Tatras home, including wolves, lynxes, wild boars, marmots, and brown bears. The unique Tatra chamois can also be found here. Remember that you are a visitor in their home. This means always keeping your distance, being very careful not to leave food accessible, and leaving pets such as dogs at home when you explore this region.
- Show Respect for Other Visitors. Practice good trail etiquette on hikes in Tatra National Park, remembering that other visitors have also come seeking a peaceful nature experience. In addition to packing out trash to avoid littering and pollution, please show respect with regard to light and sound pollution as well. Avoid playing music on your hike unless you bring headphones.
- Show Respect for Livestock Protection. Beyond the borders of the national park, local farmers are making a living by growing crops and raising livestock. This is especially true if your hike takes you across the border into Poland. Be sure to respect their livelihoods as well as help maintain the separation between protected area and inhabited land. Do not cross fences, trample crops, or interfere with grazing livestock.
With respect and cooperation, the rich nature of Tatra National Park can be both preserved and enjoyed. By following these principles and educating other hikers to do the same, the Tatras will maintain their wild beauty for generations to come.