Teeming with unique wildlife species and plant species found nowhere else, Hohe Tauern National Park is the largest protected high-country landscape of Austria. Read on to learn what led to the establishment of Austria’s first National Park.
East Tirol is full to the brim with beautiful, natural scenery ready to explore, with old-growth forests and Austria’s tallest peaks, so jagged it seems they were carved yesterday, rushing glacial streams and glassy tarns, majestic eagles soaring high above and curious marmots. “However, this pristine wilderness was once at risk,” says Carola Trojer from Matrei. Carola is in her mid-thirties and works as a National Park Ranger at Hohe Tauern National Park.
Hydroelectric Power Plant vs. Pristine Natural Environment
Looking back: In the 1980s, there were plans to erect Austria’s biggest dam near Kals to use the untapped potential of Dorfertal Valley’s glacial streams for hydroelectric power. Plant developers promised renewable energy and jobs while opponents and nature conservationists raised concerns about the damage to the unique natural environment. What followed was a controversial dispute that invaded politics and divided homes.
The yearlong tug-of-war that ensued increased public awareness and resulted in a growing opposition against the proposed major hydro plant. Eventually, nature conservationists succeeded and the proposed hydroelectric plant was rejected in 1989. However, it would take three more years and two campaigns by the neighboring Austrian Provinces of Carinthia and Salzburg until the area gained long-term protection as a national park after the US example. In 1992, the Austrian government established Hohe Tauern National Park in the territories of Carinthia, Salzburg and East Tirol. The park composes more than a quarter of East Tirol’s territory.
Research and Conservation Efforts
Austria’s first and largest national park, Hohe Tauern is the biggest nature reserve in Central Europe. It stretches across the three Austrian provinces of Salzburg, Carinthia and Tirol. The park is divided into an outer zone where agricultural tradition thrives, a core zone and designated wilderness areas with a highly protected status to prevent the development of these places and allow nature to flourish. The park funds and enables research and conservancy projects and programs that protect, preserve, and provide access to its rich and varied natural resources.
As a child, Carola wanted to become a teacher, but now she has “the best job in the world,” as she puts it. Equipped with binoculars, the ranger runs informational programs and teaches visitors about the natural wonders of the park and the importance of preserving the land and wildlife. Apart from training and knowledge, it takes an excellent physical shape and love and passion for the outdoors. The East Tirol native is an expert when it comes to the “Big 5 of the Alps” who call the National Park home, the ibex, the chamois, the marmot, the golden eagle, and the bearded vulture, also known as the lammergeier.
Protecting Rare and Endangered Species
“I often see children wondering how big the horns of the ibex are,” Carola says with a smile. Rare and declining species that are endangered and disappearing throughout the Alps have found a home at the park. The bearded vulture is an unmistakable bird—and it is one of the largest birds that is able to fly in the world. However, it is the rarest vulture in Europe and was relocated to Hohe Tauern National Park in 1986. Sometimes it needs assistance to capture the true wonders of nature. “I like it when visitors tell me: I wouldn’t have noticed that on my own,” adds the ranger.
Youth & Education Programs: Fostering a Love for Nature
What Carola considers especially important is to introduce little ones to nature and foster an appreciation for the outdoors for years to come. “We have to preserve this amazing place on earth for future generations.” The park works with local schools on curriculum-based programs, but they also have residential programs like “Junior Ranger” during summer school holidays. Entrance to see the natural other wonders of Austria’s first national park is free.
Visitors can join rangers for amazing guided tours, snowshoe trips, education programs and other opportunities to engage their senses. However, it is worthwhile to take a moment, when gazing upon the bounty of Austria’s largest national park, and thank the people who fought so hard to keep the valley in all her elemental glory and allowing visitors the opportunity to bask in the marvel of nature—instead of walking atop the highest dam in the country and imagine what the valley once looked like.
Photo Credits: Solvin Zankl/Bert Heinzlmeier/Gunther Gressmann/Hannah Assil/Andreas Angermann