One of the oldest national parks in Southeast Europe and the largest one in Croatia, the Plitvice Lakes National Park spans an area of 296.85 square kilometers in the central Croatian mountainous karst region. The park achieved its national park status in 1949 and in 1979 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The national park shares its territory with the Karlovac County and Lika-Senj County in Croatia. The most distinguishing feature of the Plitvice Lakes National Parks is its series of 16 cascading lakes, each with its own unique color depending on the mineral and organismic composition of the lakes. The lakes, formed at the confluence of small rivers, streams, and subterranean karst rivers, are all connected to each other and lie at varying elevations with the lowest lake forming the Korana River. The boundaries between the lakes are formed by natural dams comprised of travertine limestone.
The area in and around the Plitvice Lakes National Park has witnessed a long history of human settlements, wars, cultural evolution and anthropogenic developments. From time to time, the control of the area has shifted hands between the Romans, Ottomans, Illyrians, and others. During such times, very little emphasis was placed on the conservation of the natural habitat of the park. It was only in the 19th Century when the first tourist facilities were established in the area that the thoughts of conserving the natural beauty of the area surfaced. Several decades of struggle followed when the conservationists tried to reason with the concerned authorities about the need to conserve the park. It was only after the World War II that the importance of the area was realized and finally, in 1949, it earned the status of a national park.
Education and Tourism
The Plitvice Lakes National Park is highly popular as a global tourist hot spot and around 1.1 million tourists visit the park each year. The nearest airports to the park are located in Rijeka, Zadar, and Zagreb, while the nearest rail stations are in Plaski and Josipdol. Buses from these cities and towns can transport tourists to the national park. At the park, hiking and walking are the two primary activities to be enjoyed. This allows tourists to catch a glimpse of the unique flora and fauna of the park and also observe some spectacular waterfalls, caves, lakes and other natural sights at the park.
Habitat and Biodiversity
The Plitvice Lakes National Park experiences an average annual temperature of 7.9° Celsius. Temperatures rise to 17.4° Celsius in the peak summer months of July and August. Rainfall is highest during the spring and autumn and the average annual precipitation rate is 1,500 millimeters. Of the 109 species of plants growing in this national park, 75 are endemic to the park. Besides beech, fir, and spruce, 55 orchid species are also found here. Fauna in this park is also highly biodiverse. Mammals inhabiting the forests include lynxes, wolves, wild cats, and brown bears. Avian fauna like golden eagles, capercaillies, Eurasian eagle owls, and white-throated dippers can also be sighted at the national park. The Plitvice Lakes National Park also houses an incredible variety of butterflies and moths, 12 species of amphibians, lizards, snakes, bats, and fish.
Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes
In the 1990s, following the collapse of Yugoslavia during the Croatian War for Independence, the Plitvice Lakes National Park suffered significant adverse impacts when the park authorities were forced to abandon the park due to rising civil unrest in the region. This led to the placement of the park in the World Heritage Danger List in 1992. However, after situations in Croatia started normalizing, the authorities started returning back and by 1997, and the park was removed from the danger list. Today, the employees of the national park are attempting to maintain its pristine conditions by taking strict measures to conserve the park. Sustainable tourism activities were encouraged to replace the local economy based on the destructive logging activities. Inside the park, wooden bridges and hiking trails are the only means of communication between places and polluting vehicles are not allowed. Hunting, fishing, and independent tourism are banned here. Boating is only allowed in one of the lakes at the park to protect the others from contamination. The authorities of the national park thus take every measure to ensure the national park remains in its most natural state with minimal human interference.