The bells are tolling in Hittisau. Two rangers, Lisa and Matthias, await me in the office of the Nagelfluhkette Nature Park. Their safari-green uniforms are adorned with slogans about biodiversity. Although they are a small team, they regularly collaborate with three German colleagues from the Allgäu side, across the border from the Bregenzerwald. In my mind, rangers are like cowboys on horseback with 10-gallon hats and Colt 45s. But spending the day with them, however, really changed my entire perception. Instead of saddling up a horse, we hop into an e-car and cruise through the cross-border Nagelfluhkette Nature Park, which was founded in 2008 and unites 15 communities in the Allgäu and the lower Bregenzerwald regions. The protected area is dominated by the 24-km-long Nagelfluhkette mountain chain, along which we drive. In the German community of Balderschwang, we put our backpacks on and cross through a mixed montane forest. Along the way, the rangers point out various interesting flora and fauna.
The land of “holy concrete.”
Locals refer to the colourful rocks of the Nagelfluh mountain as “holy concrete.” The geology resembles the heads of nails that have been hammered into the rockface. The Nagelfluhkette is actually a scree dump from when the Alps were formed. When the climate here was tropical, large quantities of loose sediment were washed into the Alpine foothills, causing the compressive pressure to increase. Layer after layer was piled up, and rocks and debris were “cemented” into stone. “Imagine shortcrust crumbs being pressed together. It’s like a layer cake with a base made of sediment (molasse) that was uplifted by the folding of the Alps,” explains Lisa. It’s a unique mixture of limestone and silicate rocks crammed into the smallest of spaces. Because the area received plenty of precipitation, plants thrived here. That is until an ice age began. “On the one hand, this frozen period was a gigantic biodiversity killer,” Matthias says. “On the other hand, loamy deposits rendered the soils fertile,” adds Lisa. Regardless of what we examine or discuss along the way, the pair view everything from multiple angles. Their experienced eyes know every inch of the park and they see things at a deeper level. They explain that because the ice thawed here earlier than elsewhere, the ground had more time to form. This part of what makes this environment so special.