Hautes Fagnes

You always hear that there is only one Everglades, and yes that is probably the case.

But the Hautes Fagnes, like the Moors of England, and other wetland systems throughout the world, have their similarities … and are each unique in their own way.

The views from the Hautes Fagnes are spectacular: and you don’t need a viewing tower to see them.

That’s because they are located on the highest point in Belgium, and – as I mentioned before – its wettest.

They crest in height at the Signal de Botrage, located at 694 meters above sea level. That’s a big leap up from Florida’s 1-3 meters above sea level marshes. Not only does it offer scenic views, the high plateau is the “rain maker” of the Hautes Fagnes. The high plateau is the first topographic obstacle that coastal storms encounter as they flow onshore across mainland Europe. That orthographically forces the clouds to move higher in the sky, where they cool and condense, bringing 55 inches and over 200 days of rain to the Hautes Fagnes per year. If you add in cloudy days, you can count your lucky stars to catch a glimpse of blue sky up the high fens.

The dominant grass is purple-moor grass. It out competes other specialized species, forming a monoculture of hummocky and rolling prairie. Sounds sort of like the Everglades’ sawgrass.

The dominant tree is spruce, and it also forms a monoculture of its own kind. But don’t confuse it with the slash pines of the Everglades, because spruce is not a natural tree for Belgium, let alone the Hautes Fagnes.

Spruce was brought in generations ago for its agricultural yield as a timber crop, and in the Hautes Fagnes, that involved drainage.
Now that does sound like the Everglades!

A big part of managing the Hautes Fagnes is keeping them free of spruce: not only in terms of their footprint, but also in terms of their impact on the natural water cycle of the adjacent fens.
Controlling the spruce is probably not unsimilar to our efforts to keep maleleuca out of the Everglades. But in this case, the spruce are still retained for commercial timber production, right next door to the fens on the other side of the drainage ditch.

I’d like to find out more and spend more time roaming aimlessly on the open tranquil pathways of the Hautes Fagnes. Cobble paths of what I assume is native stone gives way to winding rail-less wooden boardwalks … probably made from the nearby spruce, but that’s just a guess.

Why do my most memorable hikes always involve rain: and not being adequately prepared, but forging ahead any how?

In this case, with storm clouds rolling up the valley in waves – unleashing their rain as they rise to the top, the prudent decision was to turn back … especially without proper rain gear.

Yes, if you want to be truly beautiful, you’ve got to walk through the rain, but not a cold wind-driven Belgium rain on the Hautes Fagnes! For that you need good rain gear from head to toe, and something “more substantial” than an order of frittes in your belly.

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