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The Biebrza National Park
The Biebrza National Park is located in Northeast Poland, in the Podlaskie Voivodship. The northeastern boundary of the park is near the Belarus border. The Narew River and its confluence with the Biebrza River form the southern boundary. The park was established in 1993, and with a total area of 59 233 ha, it is the largest of the Polish national parks. The Park includes 15 547 ha of forests, 18 182 ha of agricultural land, and 25 494 ha of wetlands - the most valuable habitats of the park - the famous Biebrza marshes. The area of 3 936 ha is under strict protection ha including the Czerwone Bagno or Red Bog at the Grzędy Forest District. Unique in Europe for its marshes and peatlands, as well as its highly diversified fauna, especially birds - the Park was designated as a wetland site of global significance and is under the protection of the RAMSAR Convention.

Within the Park and buffer zone boundaries, water routes along the Biebrza River (135-km), 3 bicycle trails (148 km) and 18 hiking tourist trails have been marked (504 km). There are watchtowers, observation platforms, and footbridges on several of the trails. Close to the Osowiec Railway Station, the Field Educational Centre with trails, watchtowers, footbridges and interpretative signs is located.

Hiking trails
Red Trail (18 km, Grzędy Region) goes through Nowy Swiat, Wilcza Gora and Dzial Kumkowskiego. BEWARE: Sometimes during the spring the trial could be wet and flooded, the hiking could be difficult. Estimated walking time: 6-8 hours. Beautiful stands of deciduous and coniferous trees line the Red Trail. Other attractions include some old oak trees up to 300 years old, rare warm weather plants found in the sand dunes of Grzedy and infinite meadows of white sedge. The observation tower on Wilcza Gora has a stunning view of the Biebrza Marshes during all times of the year. Also at Wilcza Gora one can view, at dawn, wandering elks and swooping raptors.

Blue Trail (8,5 km, Grzędy Region) goes through Lesniczowka Grzedy, Second and Third Grzeda and back to the main foresters lodge at Lesniczowka. This trail is rather easy and takes about two to three hours.
The rehabilitation pen for elk is the main highlight on this trail, but for plant lovers there is also the wet peat bog forest of "Czerwone Bagno". At the end of the short 700-meter boardwalk is a small viewing platform with an educational board about the Red Marshes.

Green Trail (9 km, Grzędy Region) starts at the foresters' lodge of Lesniczowka Grzedy and passes through Solistowska Gora, Lagiew and circles back around to return to the foresters' lodge.
BEWARE: springtime brings spring flooding, this trail could be wet and hiking could be difficult. This trail can be easily transverse in three to four hours.Interesting fragments of mixed forests and the picturesque clearing of Solistowska Gora can be see; this is where Nazi's during the Second World War killed local inhabitants. The rich vegetation of meadows at Woznawiejski Canal (1845-1856), which takes waters of Jegrznia to Biebrza River is other attraction.

Red Trail (3 km, Osowiec Region) The Field Educational Trail (FETis a very easy trail to transverse with an estimated walking time of about three to fours hours. Highlights of this trail include an array of viewing platforms, observation towers, boardwalks and information about nature and history of the area. Due to its location between the Upper and Lower Basins the surroundings possesses very dense bird populations, excellent for avid bird watchers. Along the trail there are also the bunkers of Osowiec, its second complex.

Second Red Trail (30 km, Osowiec Region ) a long and hard trail; this trail will take the whole day to walk, it passes through Goniadz, Wolka Piaseczna, Brzeziny Kapickie, Debiec, Modzelowka, and finally to Ruda. Two significant landmarks are found in Goniadz. The first is the Neo-Baroque church built at the beginning of the 20th Century. The second one is Saint Florian's chapel, located close to the church. A great panorama of Goniadz can be viewed from the small ledge just in front of the town's cemetery. During the spring the observation tower in Goniadz provides a second excellent view of the town as well as the surrounding wet meadows. Continuing down the trail to Brzeziny Kapickie, this tree stand complex consists of birches and alders and is usually moist all year round. Traveling along the Kapicki Canal, where is possible to observe dam and beaver lodge, the trail passes through a village of the same name. This settlement has remnant of old wooden structures.

Red Trail (9,5km, Gugny Region) A relatively short trail, the path at Barwik passes through Uroczysko and Gugny. Beware: this trail will be flooded during the spring, tourist will have difficulty walking this trail at that time. Great Snipe and its springtime mating displays are possible to view from the trial. From the observation tower at "Losiowka" elk and red deer can be observed especially during at dusk. Along the trail blooming orchids.

Green Trail (6,2km, Gugny Region) A very easy 2 to 3 hour stroll, the trail finishes at Grobla Honczarowska. What is special about this trail, is at the platform one can view the globally endangered Aquatic Warbler as well as Godwits and Cranes. From the observation tower-spotting elk is not too difficult.

Bicycle trails
Rajgród - Wojdy - Rybczyzna - Woźnawieś - Grzędy - Wilcza Góra (29 km). A rather flat and easy path for bikes. The town of Rajgrod has a pleasant "old-town" with strongholds from XII c., a Neo-Gothic church and an old wooden chapel located in the middle of the town's cemetery. The trail passes through a very scenic landscape full of meadows, villages, river crossings and lakes.

Goniądz - Dawidowizna - Wroceń - Dolistowo - Dębowo - Wrotki - Kopiec - Sosnowo - Tajenko - Orzechówka - Woźnawieś - Grzędy (65 km). BEWARE: the junction between Dolistowo and Debowo will be flooded in the spring, without a boat the trail will be impassable. Dolistowo is an excellent place to view the Biebrza Valley and its nature. Also in Dolistowo there is an 18th century church in very good condition as well as an old wooden Dutch windmill constructed in the 19th century. Dolistowo and Sosnowo are interesting for its sluice complex.

Osowiec Twierdza - Osowiec village - Płochowo - Wólka Piaseczna - Goniądz - Osowiec-Twierdza (25 km). Much of what you can see on this route has been mentioned above. One the other side of the Biebrza from the Elk/Bialystok bridge is the Field Educational Path. Also a lot of platforms and view towers to observe nature. A very scenic landscape, many foraging storks.

Osowiec village - Carska Droga - Laskowiec - Strękowa Góra - Wizna (52 km). Beware: Some times during the trail you will have to carry your bike. This trail will travel down the Tsar’s road where peat bogs and wet alder forests can be seen. At Lawki Fen is an observation tower. Past Lawki fen there are beaver lodges along the road on the right side. In Wizna check out the old wooden buildings, they are pretty cool.

Climate. The Biebrza Wetlands lay in the north east region of Poland, known as the "Green Lungs" region. With an exception of the mountains, this area has a reputation for being the coldest region in Poland. Its climate can be characterized as a combination of continental and sub-boreal, these overlapping characteristics are due to the wide marshy areas that condense moisture on a very large scale and the valley's unique geological formation. Long winters and a short vegetation growth period characterize the Biebrza valley. The average year round temperature is one of the coldest of these type lowlands with the coldest month coming in February and temperatures dropping as low as -50C. Winters can last up to 117 days and with average maximum temperatures below zero. Snow cover can last up to 140 days in the upper basin with a slightly lower longevity in the southern basin. During the spring and fall, a range of 57 to 66 frosty days is average. July is the hottest month in the Biebrza valley with temperatures topping out at 17,80C. The length of the summer ranges from 77 to 85 days, with daytime temperatures averaging 150C. Foggy nights and morning are quite common and can be seen up to 70 days a year and usually twice that in peaty areas of the valley. The cool air of the surrounding uplands flows and touches the warm waters of Biebrza, this is a quick catalyst for condensation of water steam which givens the appearance of ground fog. The uplands surrounding the valley to a greater extent has a higher level of precipitation than the actual valley floor, 600 mm to 510 mm respectively. As with every typical lowland valley, winds are commonly strong and have a west to southwesterly direction. Due to the valleys high humidity wind storms and tornadoes are rare to almost unheard of.

Geology. The Biebrza National Park covers a large part of the Biebrza valley, a huge depression more than 100 km long. The valley was formed during the central Polish and Baltic glaciations 10.000 - 30.000 years ago. Since that time, a peat layer has developed and in places is up to 10 m thick. This peatland complex covers about 90 000 ha and is the largest and the least disturbed of its kind in Central Europe. The Biebrza valley is surrounded from the east, south and west by morainic plateaux formed during the penultimate (Central Polish) glaciation. In the north, a morainic plateau, formed during the last (i.e. Baltic) glaciation borders the valley. At the Augustów outwash plain, the valley lies adjacent to a zone of deep kettles and lakes. The valley is naturally divided into three basins: the northern or upper basin (east of Sztabin), the middle basin (between Sztabin and Osowiec) and the southern or lower basin (between Osowiec and the Biebrza mouth).
The Upper Biebrza Basin is 40-km long and 1.5- 3.0 km wide. The peat deposit is 3 to 6 m thick and is partly underlain by calcareous gyttia. Characteristic features of the relief of the Upper Biebrza Basin are the moraine outcrops. The middle basin is a somewhat rectangular shape 40 km long and 20 km wide. It is a vast complex of peatlands (45,000 ha) with peat up to 3 m deep.Sands underlie the peat deposit with gravel series at the bottom of the northern part and silts and clays in the southern part. Extensive sandy tracts in many places transformed by eolic process to dunes and partly submerged by peat distinguish the middle basin. The Augustowski, Woznawiejski, Rudzki canals and several smaller canals (constructed in the first half of the 19th century) have changed hydrological regimes of this part of the valley, leading to a permanent drop in the water table and drainage of the peatlands. The Lower Basin is 30-km long and 12-15 km wide. The peat deposit is more than 2 m thick and is underlain by thick sandy-gravel beds, locally covered by loam and silt deposits. Small dunes forming islands several metres high are submerged in the peat of the surrounding flat flood plain. Numerous oxbows are situated in a 1-2 km wide muddy zone along the river.

Waters. The protection zone of the Biebrza National Park surrounds the highly bio-diversified and most unique Biebrza River. Its headwaters are located in the small moraine hills of Sokolskie, just south of the small and quaint village of Nowy Dwór. The length of the Biebrza River is 164 km, draining its waters into the larger Narew River at the village of Ruś. Only 10 km is excluded from the boundaries of the Biebrza National Park; with a catchment area of over 7000 square kilometers the Biebrza Valley is considered one of the largest catchment areas in Poland surpassing many man made reservoirs. The Biebrza and the Nieman catchments are connect by the Augustowski Channel a hydro-technical achievement of the 19th century. This and many other drainage works contributed to the lowering of the local ground water table. The Biebrza Marshes are supplied by two ways its water table and the tributaries that discharges into the Biebrza. The majority of Biebrza's tributaries flowing into its waters come from the right bank, these include the Lebiedzianka, Netta, Koptkówka, Jegrznia, Dybła, Ełk, Klimaszewnica and the Wissa streams. The tributaries of the left bank contributes only 24.5% of the Biebrza's outflow and these streams include the Sidra, Brzozówka, Biebła Czarna Struga and the Kosódka. From the headwaters to the river mouth the average elevation decline is 36%, but taking into consideration that the surface area of the valley, due to its flooding, this decline can be reduced to 19%. An average yearly flow of 27.5 m3/s was measured at the southern basin village of Burzyn. Snow thawing in spring is the primary reason for floodings that time of the year, these floodings contribute to the valley's highly bio-diversified and habitat mosaic landscape.

Vegetation. There have been documented more than 70 natural and semi-natural plant associations recorded in the Biebrza valley. Some of the most dominating and ecologically valuable of these associations include sedge, sedge-moss, reed communities, and mineral islands. The most dominant forest associations include black alder, swampy birch, and peat coniferous forests. Hydrogenic dependent habitats cover 40% of the valley's total area, and these representative water ecosystems are riverbeds and numerous oxbows or old riverbeds. Changes of the environmental condition cause by the Augustowski Channel construction, together with land amelioration done in the 60's induce permanent decreasing of the ground water table. This decrease of the ground level gave way to many semi-natural communities the most common being meadow type associations. Frequent anthropogenic ecosystems found in the valley are pastures, cultivated grounds and urbanized areas with plant communities surrounding the Osowiec Fortress being by far the most important.

Flora. Characteristics that describes Biebrza's flora are: spruce dominated with large amounts of boreal species and glacial relicts such as Shrub Birch (Betula humilis), Narrow Small Reed (Calamagrostis stricta), String Sedge (Carex chordorrhiza), Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum), Labrador Tea (Ledum palustre), Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos), Moor King (Pedicularis sceptrum-carolinum), Common Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris), Jacob's Ladder (Polemonium caeruleum) Downy Willow (Salix lapponum), Marsh Saxifrage (Saxifraga hirculus), Marsh Felwort (Swetia perennis),Cotton Deergrass (Trichophorum alpinum), Northen Bilberry (Vaccinium uliginosum). Of the more than 1000 vascular plants found in the Biebrza Valley, more than 900 of them exist in the Biebrza National Park. 90 vascular plant species are under strict protection and another 17 are only partly protected. 45 of these species are listed under the Red Data List of Endangered Vascular Plants in Poland!, these include Green Spleenwort (Asplenium viride), Variegated Horsetail (Equisetum variegatum), Great Sundew (Drosera anglica), Marsh Pennywort (Hydrocotyle vulgaris), Common Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris), Small Fleabane (Pulicaria vulgaris), Yarrow Broomrape (Orobanche purpurea), Marsh Felwort (Swetia perennis), Fritillary (Fritilaria meleagris), Iris (Iris aphylla) and 20 other orchid species including the Ladies Slipper (Cypripedium calceolus) with one of the most numerous populations in Poland!

Threats. One of the greatest threats to the Park is artificial drainage, which results in the invasion of marshes by shrubs and trees. This loss of sedge and moss communities is accelerated as farmers (landowners) cease mowing for hay production. Active conservation measures are applied to limited extent to stop further succession and maintain the valuable intermediate stage. Since 46% of park property is privately owned, agricultural management compatible with conservation principles is of primary importance, and a broad public awareness campaign is in place to encourage measures towards adopting organic farming techniques.

Settlement. Setting aside the valley's natural beauty, our Biebrza, has a long and diverse past of historical influences, coming from many different cultures and religions. The feared Teutonic Knights and the pagan tribes of Jacwing left traces of the life in Middle Ages. Settlers originating from Russia, Lithuania and the Mazowsze province colonised Biebrza Marshes since the 15th century. The 16th century bought the Jewish culture to the valley of Biebrza. It just takes a closer look to find evidence of all these nations, which are still present in today's language, religion and customs.

Traditions Still Living. Located in the Southern Basin of the Biebrza Valley near Wizna, the small village of Wierciszewo is definitely worth a visit. Local farmers have to ferry their cattle across the waters of Biebrza similar to their ancestors of the past. If you never have seen cattle swim across a river, check out the small villages of Dolistowo or Brzostowo. This is all that remains of the once thriving rural community that once inhabited our Biebrza. Folk customs that still thrive here in Biebrza include, embroidering, basket weaving, religious cross smiting and carving. The women of Lipsk, according to past custom use wax to decorate eggs for Easter every year. Many places (Janow, Korycin, Goniadz) continue the art of handy-crafts using double fabricated loom machines. These specialized pieces of textile art were made for altars in churches as well as for banquet tables and ornamental purposes in manors. Later, by rich peasant families these pieces of fabric symbolised the brides' dowries.

Osowiec Fortress. The Osowiec Fortress complex is arguably the most important monument of the Biebrza Valley. The Tsar for defence against the Germans erected this huge fortification complex, situated in the difficult to access marshes. Osowiec Fortress consists of four sub-complexes forming a quadrangle at the junction of the lower and middle basin. Complex Two, the ruins near Osowiec village and Complex One, where is located Museum of Fortress can be visited by tourists with a guide. Complex One is open only to Poles, with the exception of foreigners who have a proper military pass, acquired at the Ministry of Defence in Warsaw.

Sites Worth a Visit While Passing Through the Biebrza Valley
· Augustowski Canal. The construction of the Augustowski Canal first started taking place in the year 1824. The main idea behind the construction of this hydrotechnical achievement was to avoid Prussian taxes. The Canal connects the Vistula and Niemen catchment areas. At the villages of Dębowo and Sosnowo, the sluice complex can be an interesting place to pass away the time.
· Wizna was a metropolitan centre of the early Middle Ages. The beginning of the present town of Wizna can be view on its outskirts where a huge mound of dirt is standing; this is a former site of a medieval stronghold.
· The wooden churches in Jaminy and Stara Kamienna constructed in 1780 and 1610 respectively.
· The old wooden Orthodox Church called "Molenna" in Gabowe Grady.
· Old wooden wind mills in Dolistowo, Zabiele, Suchowola and Kamienna Stara.
· Water mills at the towns of Goniądz and Karwowo.
· Jaglowo is one of the oldest most preserved villages of the Biebrza valley. Here one can view cows crossing the waters of Biebrza, and some of the traditional wooden architectures of its past times.
· Many isolated villages possess traditional wooden buildings with wooden crane wells, chapels, and metal roadside markings, which have an unforgettable charm, so rarely found in modern times.

Field Education Center in Osowiec-Twierdza
Historical Nature Path. The path travels through the narrowest part of the Biebrza Valley, this region is only 1 km wide. The location of the trail emphasis's the value of nature and the historical significance of Osowiec Fortress. Hiking along the trail you can familiarize yourself with the unique features of the Biebrza nature. These features represent some of the flora and fauna in the park. You could feast our eyes on a very wide area and open landscape. This will help you to obtain a better knowledge of the area.

Trail Directions. The educational trail starts out in front of the headquarters of Biebrza National Park, close to the Osowiec train station. From the beginning, the trail passes through a mixed forest reaching the base of Skobla Hill. During the years of 1912-1914 this area was fortified. The observation tower is located on this hill, from this place you could observe a wonderful view of the Biebrza Valley. Continuing down the path, after exiting the forest we turn right and go through the old bridge on the Biebrza river. After the bridge, the path goes along the ruins of the Osowiec Bunkers of the 19th Century, built by the Tsar. The next stages of our trip consist of wooden paths and observation towers. These wooden paths are put along the flooded area of the Biebrza Valley. Due to the narrow width of this region, the whole area is flooded. Surface flooding can remain for 82-340 days and its maximum depth can be between 50-200cm. The trail continues across the Bialystok/Ełk road and finishes at the Rudzki Canal made in the 19th century as a hydrological complex site. For making the visiting more interesting there has been made three observation towers, three wooden observation platforms and 1000m of wooden pathways.

What you could see?. If you'll lucky you could observe, many interesting species of birds, (easiest to watch in may) for example wild ducks, a Black Tern, a Common Snipe, a Hoopoe, a Mute Swan, the White Tailed Eagle, and a Marsh Harrier. Among the mammals you could meet elk, beaver, American mink. The plant life is very rich as well. Apart from very common forest plants, there are also very rare plants. You could see Daphne, Mezereon, Martagon. Some water/fen plants can be seen from the observation platform, like the Water Lily, Nuphar, Frog's Bit, and the Water Solider, also many sedges and Horsetails are observable from the platform.

Author and more information
Author: Biebrzański Park Narodowy, more information:

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