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Tracks in the snow

Tracks in the snow

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Tracks in the snow

Ranger-led snowshoe hikes in the Nagelfluhkette Nature Park offer relaxation, recreation, exercise and perhaps a new perspective on nature.

Nagelfluhkette Nature Park rangers are true professionals. “Before becoming a ranger, everyone who works here studied something nature-related,” explains Carola Bauer. “Many colleagues come from the forestry sector. I myself studied geography in Innsbruck.” In addition to her educational background, Bauer, who is originally from Regensburg, also trained as a nature educator not to mention being a passionate mountaineering & tour guide. She has spent years researching the Apollo, one of Europe’s most endangered butterflies. To become one of three full-time rangers at the Nagelfluhkette Nature Park, she had to best over 200 other applicants during a lengthy selection process. The rigorous interview process was worth it. Bauer loves her job and her passion for her position is evident. The daily routine of a park ranger is both varied and colourful: about half her day is spent doing office work.  Here she plans tours, organises or completes continuing education and training, and works closely with schools in the surrounding area. “For us it’s key to raise awareness,” explains Bauer. 

Networking is also a big part of Bauer’s job: “Education and visitor guidance are not done in isolation. Collaborating with landowners, hunters and forest rangers is a very important component of our work. Each stakeholder needs to be able to contribute their wishes and suggestions, while also being kept informed.” Rangers spend the rest of their day out in the field proving guided tours to nature park students, walking routes and making their presence felt in the park. In wintertime, they also offer guided snowshoe hikes. These play into their concept of visitor guidance. “In offering guided tours, we can demonstrate where it is safe to hike, explain posted signs, and help visitors to understand the park and its inhabitants.” The aim is to make the park a place where people can relax and enjoy themselves. The rangers themselves plan snowshoe-hike routes so that they can then travel safely with their guests. According to Bauer, it’s simply not enough to plan the tour a few days beforehand and to read the avalanche report: “I have to observe the weather over a longer period of time so that I am well informed about the structure of the snow cover: where there is sleet or layers of floating snow, fractures, etc.” Bauer acquired such expertise during her studies and can now fall back on her experience as a ranger. Taking guests snowshoe-hiking is a science in itself: After all, the composition of a hiking group is different every time. For instance, a tour is estimated to take four to five hours, but rangers must estimate the physical condition of guests on hand and may need to shorten or lengthen a tour as a result. “I look at the group and try to estimate their fitness,” says Ranger Bauer with a wink. “If there are a lot of fit participants, we’ll take the longer route. If the group is primarily composed of  less physically fit people, we may need to shorten the tour.” During the hike itself, guests should do more than just exercise their leg muscles: The aim of any such tour is to make nature tangible. “Many people have never learned to interact within a given landscape. They see nature as a backdrop and not as a living landscape in which the dangers can sometimes be very real.” During a given hike, Bauer challenges guests to use their senses. This helps them to better appreciate all that the park has to offer. She prompts them by asking: How does the snow feel under your feet? How does the forest sound? To which animal do the tracks in the snow belong? If Bauer can get her guests to answer and consider such questions, she is confident their experience in the park will be a memorable one.

Ideally, snowshoe hikers on her tours should leave the park with a new perspective: “Take a closer look and you might chance upon a feather or evidence of sweeping in the snow. Such clues may draw attention to certain wintering strategies employed by animals. What does a deer do in the snow or how does a capercaillie survive in winter? Such anecdotes are very exciting for most people.” Bauer has so many stories to share about the smallest of details: For instance, fallen fir needles and a nibbled spruce cone point to a feeding squirrel. Watch the landscape, listen, and learn: Carola and her colleagues would like to encourage visitors to the park to do just this. Snowshoe hikes guided by rangers in the Nagelfluhkette Nature Park are a relaxing way to get exercise and perhaps learn something new about nature at the same time. As part of their project “Moving Nature – Protected Biodiversity,” the rangers offer six free-of-charge tours per winter. Those who wish to join need only pack sturdy shoes, winter clothes, a rucksack and a snack.

Author: Bartholomäus Natter
Issue: Winter 2019-20 Travel Magazine