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We are taking a stroll through the Yenice Forests, one of a hundred ‘hot spots’ urgently designated for protection by the world wildlife fund (wwf) on account of their rich wildlife and plant diversity.
Trails, many of which welcome nature lovers by the thousands around the world, are catching on in Turkey as well. And the nature walking trails of the Yenice Forests at Karabük on the Black Sea have now been added to the country’s extensive, already existing, routes like the Lycian Way, St. Paul’s Way and Independence Trail.
TURKEY’S LARGEST EXPANSE OF VIRGIN FOREST
It was months ago when I hit the road one spring morning to work on the Karabük Yenice Forests Project. The Karabük-Yenice highway passes through exactly sixteen tunnels along the railroad line and Filyos River before reaching the town. The forested area is wrapped in a thick blanket of morning fog that lends our journey a fairytale air. The southern slopes of the valley are covered with pine and sandalwood trees, the north side with pale yellow linden - an impressive landscape indeed.
One spring day when fresh green shoots are just beginning to sprout, we embark on our task of identifying hiking and bicycle trails. This virgin landscape has been divided by the Department of Forests into thirteen different zones, all connected by wide forest roads. As we advance through the dense forest with a GPS in one hand and our paint can in the other, we are entering an enchanted world that literally compels us to preserve its endless riches. Short-lived rushing white waters dance amidst the trees, where the silence is broken only by the chirping of birds mingling with the rustle of leaves in the wind. The small ponds created to prevent forest fires wink their blue eyes at us. In a riot of blossom that leaves dreary winter far behind, the cherry, almond and pear trees vie for most beautiful. Every tree, every rock here, has a story to tell where the mysterious spirit and harmony of nature are reflected in all their detail. I immediately set to exploring the green silence as the wind madly licks my face.
Without a doubt, the most important section of the Yenice Forests with their unique microclimate is the Arboretum Area where the monumental trees stand. A product of the rich plant diversity created by water and humidity, these trees are among the most prized treasures of this natural wonder. Rare trees of extraordinary height and diameter compared with those of other species, they have been registered as a Natural Monument and taken under protection. Measuring 2-7 meters in diameter and standing 18-30 meters tall, the Istranca oak, Turkish hazelnut, Old World yew, Caucasian linden, mountain elm and maple make the Yenice Forests a virtual open-air museum.
Every footprint we leave behind helps us uncover a few more details. Our intensive efforts, coordinated by the Yenice Office of Kaymakam, fill an entire month. During this time we lay out hiking and biking trails in the Kavaklı, Şimşirdere, Çitdere, Kızılkaya, Karakaya and Göktepe zones of the forest. GPS coordinates are taken along all the forest roads and paths. All the trails are marked to international standards with red and white lines and direction signs are erected at all intersections to facilitate hiking. A total of 21 trails totaling 396 kilometers, counting the alternative routes, are laid out, taking into account natural resources and ecological values. In the final stage, a guide book is compiled with detailed maps of the trails and put up on the website of the Yenice Office of Kaymakam (www.yenice.gov.tr/yenice-kitap/). The Yenice trails offer a range of alternatives for nature enthusiasts with everything from one-day to longer routes for hikers at every level. The longest trail, six days in the City Forest and Arboretum area, invites visitors to enjoy a spectacular adventure on which all the beauty of this impressive patch of nature are displayed.
A NEW CENTER OF ECOTOURISM
With their monumental trees, found only in rare landscapes outside the tropics, verdant valleys, mountains up to 2000 meters in altitude, deep canyons, gurgling streams, surprise waterfalls, wildlife and plant diversity, the Yenice Forests are at the same time a true center of ecotourism offering outdoor activities of all kinds. In addition to one-day and longer camping routes, other alternatives in this virgin environment include rock climbing, canyoning, bird watching, photo safaris, botanical walks, rafting and paragliding. The guest facilities in the depths of the forest and the fountains you’ll encounter along the way are just some of the factors that make adventure-filled activities easier for nature lovers.
The starting point for all these activities is of course the town of Yenice, which gives its name to the area. The economy of green Yenice, at the intersection of the valleys in the heart of the dense forest, has revived in recent years thanks to forest products and the local mines. But eco-tourism is the new hope of this town dotted with workshops producing souvenirs like model wooden houses, walking canes and wooden spoons. If you’ve come this far, be sure to pay a visit to Safranbolu, a town remarkable for its original Ottoman architecture, and to the famous ruins of Hadrianus and their mosaics in the town of Eskipazar.
If strolling freely along the red-and-white marked trails and discovering the surprises nature has in store for you, feeling history’s mysterious breath in the ancient basin of Küre, used since antiquity for washing minerals, swimming in waterfalls and burbling streams, and picnicking next to sparkling ponds appeal to you, then pull on your hiking boots and head for Yenice. What better opportunity to feel you’ve been born again than in a forest like a vast tree museum where leaves turn from green to yellow, red and brown in a rainbow of color.