"Hey listen, do you really have to write about this place?" This was the question my friend asked me the other day as we wound our way through the forest and marshland areas of the Orchid Trail in Engure Lake Nature Park. I immediately understood what he was getting at. At that moment, the forest, so silent and perfect, felt like it belonged to us alone. Bringing tourists to the area on purpose almost seemed sacrilegious.
This is an issue that the park, located approximately 70 kilometers west of Latvia's capital on the Gulf of Riga in Kurzeme, deals with as it struggles to develop and grow - how to balance development and nature protection, to promote tourism and yet regulate traffic within the area that is so sensitive.
Engure Lake Nature Park (ELNP) is a special place. In terms of diversity of plants and bird species in the area, this place is unique -the number of threatened species which call this home is the richest in all of Latvia. In fact, the park area is home to 187 species of birds, making it a favorite place in Latvia for ornithologists. It is also an area that an impressive number of endangered species call home - 44 bird species, including the corncrake and the white tailed eagle which are considered threatened species worldwide, five fish species and three plant species. The Orchid Trail that my friend and I hiked is the only place in Latvia where visitors can see two-thirds of Latvia's orchid species in one place. Not surprisingly, the park area is considered one of Europe's most significant bird habitats and has been included on the Ramsare Convention on Wetlands of International Importance list since 1995. This 12,595.5 hectare park, clearly, has a lot of biological clout.
Another thing that makes ELNP special is the habitat diversity of the area 's beach, forest, dune, and a lake all harmonise with the quaint coastal fishing villages to form this mosaic-like landscape. The park is a haven for nature photographers. The wild-adapted cows and horse that live in the meadows along the lake are a treat to watch from the towers designed especially for this purpose. And the recreation areas, developed by the State Forestry Agency, both comfortable and clean, make a picnic an almost mandatory part of any day trip to the park.
The park territory also has a number of guest houses which make for a great summer vacation along the seashore. The seaside towns of Engure, Berzciems and Mersrags can serve as a base for day trips into the park and surrounding area. This really is a vast and variable area and is worthy of more than one day of exploration.
As Latvia becomes better known and people begin to make it a holiday destination, the areas outside of the traditional Riga-Sigulda-Cesis corridor are also becoming known. If you are a nature buff looking for a peaceful break away, ELNP could be the place for you. It is beautiful, wild, and so far, relatively undiscovered.
On the one hand, after our day in the park, my friend and I wanted to run out and tell everyone we met of the magic we had encountered. ELNP is enchanting. The remoteness of the area seems to draw away all the stress of daily city life. The silence, interrupted only by the sound of the many birds that call the park home, is not really silence, but if you listen closely a hum of activity. I left the park feeling peaceful knowing that I had been to a place that has been relatively untouched and unaffected by modern day to day life. Onethe other hand, I wanted to keep this a secret between me, my friend and the birds, cows and horses we encountered during the day.
This is perhaps why writing about such a place as ELNP is somewhat disconcerting. It is a place that people should see, that cannot be denied. Nevertheless, I fear that attracting too many tourists would be a mistake. ELNP is enchanting especially because it is quiet, remote and fairly unknown. I can only hope that people will discover this place and understand why it is so special and worthy of the protected designation it has. Go see it, and tell someone 's but make it someone who values the environment and wants to save it for generations to come.
For more information, contact: www.eedp.lv/public/25031.html