Our Nature Park.
General Description of the nature park
A decision of the last GDR ministry council on March 16, 1990 was the cornerstone for the creation of Thuringian Slate Mountains/Upper Saale River Nature Park. In the course of former GDR's National Park Program this nature park was established along with three other nature parks and two biosphere reserves in the state of Thuringia. With its natural environment and a special cultural heritage, Thuringian Slate Mountains/Upper Saale River Nature Park is a unique area in Germany.
Characteristic landscape elements are the dams of Saale river, creating the largest artificial lake system in Germany. High mountains, the Slate Mountains of Thuringia, where the famous "Rennsteig" trail runs, and the pond district of Plothen-Dreba are other parts of the park. Many natural ecosystems with a high diversity of animal and plant life can be found within the park, as well as historical monuments of different epochs, that are embedded in old village structures.
The nature park is located on the territory of two districts: Saalfeld-Rudolstadt and Saale-Orla. To the north is the Orla valley, which is densely populated and industrialized. The eastern park line parallels with highway A9 in a distance of two to three kilometers. Further in the north-east this highway cuts through the pond district of Plothen. The southern and western limits of the park follow administrative borders.
Bavaria's Franconian Forest, another nature park, is located in the south, the nature park "Thuringian Forest" is adjacent to the west. Usually, borders of the nature park don't follow topography nor landscape.
A typical feature of the region are slate roofs, which can be found throughout the nature park - mostly dominating the scenery in small villages. Also, historic forms of land-use are still present: orchards, terrace farming, slate mines and quarries. They are reminders of traditional agriculture, industry and craftsmanship. If you travel across the mountain tops, you can enjoy impressive vistas. Steep valleys and a mosaic of pastures, forests, fields and water create a variable landscape - a perfect environment for a vacation !
About the villages
All but a few of the villages have not changed in size or structure in the past decades, thus a historically grown shape remains. A bird-eye view would reveal similar layouts of most villages. The village centre is usually indicated by a square, that sometimes includes a pond. Typical of the region are community-owned ponds, mostly two or three per village. The visitor will also notice many green areas in the centre: around churches and cemetaries, but also park-like central squares.
Some churches appear castle-like - in fact they were hidaways in case of war. In almost every location one will find slate roofs but also outer wall coverage made of slate. The fact, that many farm buildings are still in a very good shape and appear to be operational is due to their continuing use in the past decades, where locals sought to gain some additional earnings by agriculture. The dramatic change in the agricultural sector resulted in decreasing numbers of farmers, which also puts farm houses and barns in peril.
About the landscape
The specific morphology of slate mountains resulted in the present topography - but the face of this landscape was also altered by human influences, such as mining, farming and daming Saale River. The typical change between steep valleys and relatively flat mountain tops and plateaus (400-500 m above sea-level) is caused by geology, where layers of slate, quarzites and diabas alternate. Valleys and canyons, especially those of the Saale River, of Loquitz and Sormitz are habitat for many endangered species, for instance our logo bird, the dipper (Cinclus cinclus).
From 1925 to 1932 the first dams (Lake Bleiloch) was built, daming the Saale River for a hydroelectric power-plant and creating the largest artifical lake in Germany with a total length of 65 kilometers. The second dam (Hohewarte) was built from 1936-42. Combined, both lakes hold approx. 400 Mill. m³ of water. Increasing tourism over the past decades resulted in the construction of several campgrounds, summer homes and other leisure attractions, thus changing the face of the landscape.
Forests along the Rennsteig-trail, a historic border line as well as a trail for fast transport of messages, covers a large, continuous area in the south of the nature park. Dominated by monocultures of Norway spruce, the original vegetation, a mixed mountain forest with beech trees, oaks, firs, pines and spruces can only be found in a few spots. Some of the peaks have elevations of 700 to 800 m above sea-level.
In the north-east the pond district of Plothen can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Monks used to breed fish there and constructed several hundred, mostly small ponds. Some are still used for fish farming, but others have gained recreational importance (swimming, angling and other aquatic sports). Besides that, lakes are also a valuable habitat for a variety of birds and offer good bird-watching opportunities.