National Parks cover a mere 1% of Poland’s territory. But what a 1%! You can find everything there: mountains, sea, lakes. You can see bison, shifting sand dunes or the tree beneath which King Jagiello once rested.
There are 23 national parks in total. The oldest is Bialowieski National Park, founded 86 years ago, which consists of an area of virgin forest inhabited by Europe’s largest mammals (the bison) as well as its smallest (the pygmy shrew, weighing only a few grams). The park is also famous for its record-breaking trees, in terms of both age and size. It is said that under Jagiello’s Oak (circumference 550 cm, height 39 m), King Jagiello rested on his way to the battle of Grunwald.
The newest National Park, at the mouth of the river Warta, provides protection for a valuable area of flooded plain near Slonsk, where over 250 species of birds have been counted. 170 species nest here, while others stop over during their migratory journeys across the continent.
The largest, Biebrzanski National Park, is almost entirely covered by water, consisting of a river and spongy peat bogs. The smallest National Park is the pocket-sized Ojcowski National Park, a 12 km section of the Pradnik Valley full of calcareous rocks in fairy-tale shapes, caves and castles from the time of the Piast dynasty.
Each of the national parks is a treasure-house of records. Of only two primeval forests bordering on a great metropolis anywhere in the world, one lies in the suburbs of Warsaw in the Kampinoski National Park. The other is in Nigeria. The Narew river, a long section of which is protected within a National Park, is one of only two braid-like rivers in the world. And the Gory Stolowe (Table Mountains) National Park has the only plate-structured mountains in Europe.
Although the national parks are places set aside for the protection of nature, they also contain reminders of historic events. Sosnowica in the Poleski National Park is the place where the young Kosciuszko, in love with the daughter of the estate owner, was served the traditional black soup of rejection. And Zelazowa Wola, close to the Kampinoski National Park, was the birthplace of Frederic Chopin.
Most frequented by Poles are the Wielkopolski, Tatrzanski and Karkonoski National Parks. There are also many foreign visitors each year, particularly to those national parks which are noted for their bird life: Słowinski, Biebrzanski, Narwianski, Poleski and the park at the mouth of the Warta.