Finding out about the guided walk was a complete coincidence … or almost. When I’m writing texts for the travel agency, I’m always searching for background information. This time around, I was checking which summit is number two in the Massif des Vosges. I know that The Grand Ballon is the highest at 1424m and that the Hohneck, much closer to Xonrupt-Longemer, is the third highest with 1363m. We go to the summit in all seasons. Sometimes before dawn. The views of the Alps and the Mont-Blanc can be absolutely sublime.
A 5 km walk led us past every type of wetland you will find on the Plateau of the 1000 Etangs. Etangs means ponds in English. In reality there are 1700 ponds, almost every single one is in private ownership. There are just 4 of them owned by communities are institutional organisations. Masses of small waterways link the ponds and bogs. The owners, also the private ones, face more and more legal obligations. One example is the obligation to empty your pond every 4 years and to install a filter, stopping the sludge passing from one pond to the next.
My search for the second summit took me to the Parc’s agenda with upcoming events. Just in time because the agenda lists an event for the World Wetlands Day. Two days later I set off on a guided walk organised by the Parc Naturel Régional des Ballons de Vosges.
The Parc’s scientific guide was superb, so here are some of the fascinating facts. The Plateau and its 1000 ponds was created when the glacier of La Moselle retreated. The glacier spent around a 100 000 years retreating, growing and retreating again, to finally disappear around 12 000 years ago. The backwards and forwards action of the glacier, just like in Finland and Scandinavia, left behind an area full of pits and small hills.
The pits filled with water, some became ponds, others became peatbogs. Peatbogs need a cool and wet climate to form and they act like a sponge. The difference between a swamp and a peatbog is the presence of oxygen. In swamps, organic materials decay because there is oxygen. In peat bogs there is no oxygen (I can’t remember why), but no oxygen means that organic materials don’t decay. As peat bogs need cold temperatures in winter, they occur at a higher altitude than swamps. The layers of organic material will compress with the years and can be up to 4 meters thick. It takes thousands of years for a peat bog to form and they hold incredible amounts of water and carbon.
It makes peatbogs, just like mangroves, some of the most valuable ecosystems on Earth. They provide a wide range of important services to ecosystems including preservation of biodiversity, fresh water supply, minimisation of flood risks and limitation of climate change. The Plateau des 1000 Etangs is no exception.
The Plateau is a magnificent area, also called La Petite Finlande. The landscape, unique in France is therefore one of the only wetland areas in France to resemble the Finnish landscape.
Classed as a remarkable natural site under the NATURA 2000 scheme, the Plateau des 1000 Etangs sits right next to the Ballon de Servance and d’Alsace.
Our original and road bike tours pass through this remarkable area of outstanding natural beauty.