The Soomaa National Park

The Soomaa National Park, created in 1993, is the youngest in Estonia, but its area, 370 km², places it second after the Lahemaa National Park. The national park, situated in Transitional Estonia, has been created to protect large raised bogs, flood plain grasslands, paludified forests and meandering rivers. The territory of the national park is mostly covered with large mires, separated from each other by the rivers of the Pärnu River basin — the Navesti, Halliste, Raudna and Lemmjõgi rivers. Of the raised bogs, the most noteworthy is the Kuresoo raised bog, whose steep southern slope, falling into the Lemmejõgi, rises by 8 metres over a distance of 100 m. On the eastern margin of the national park lie the highest dunes on the Estonian mainland, situated some 50 kilometres off the contemporary coastline. The most characteristic coastal formations of the predecessor of the present Baltic Sea, the Baltic Ice Lake (11 200–10 600 years ago), which marks the one-time water level, are situated on the north-western and western edges of the Sakala Upland. The Ruunaraipe Dunes are the highest of the area. The dune ridge, winding from northwest to southeast is a 1.2 km long sand ridge, whose maximum height is 12 metres.

Life in Soomaa depends more on climate than anywhere else in Estonia. When vast amounts of water run down the Sakala Upland, the rivers of Soomaa cannot contain it all. The water flows over flood plain grasslands and forests, and covers roads, disrupting connection with the outer world. In some years the spring floods have risen by a meter a day for 3–4 days. The Riisa flood area is formed in such a way; with a surface area covering 175 square kilometres at its largest it is the biggest flood area in Estonia. At the maximum flood level the water-covered area can be 7–8 km across. Steep-sloped, raised bogs stand as islands in the water. The flood has been called the fifth season in Soomaa

Even today the unique boats carved out of a single trunk of a aspen tree are used during the flood. Characteristic of Soomaa are also suspension bridges crossing rivers, longer (up to 60 m) and more numerous than anywhere else in Estonia. Formerly, the territory of the present-day national park was crossed by winter roads, inns were established at the crossroads. In some places, the local people could travel only in winter, using temporary roads that ran across mires. These roads also offered the shortest route between Pärnu and Viljandi.

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