Members and promoters of the FÉNIX children's organization in Snina engage in a unique project
Did you know that in the past most of Slovakia's narrow-gauge railways used to be in the eastern part of this country? Many of them have been at least partially preserved, while others no longer exist, but mentions of them, also thanks to the tireless efforts of their admirers and enthusiasts, “are still alive.” Members and promoters of the FÉNIX civic association, a children's organization in the Snina district, belong among them, and for many years already they have been active in the area of renewal and publicity for the former narrow-gauge railways originally built on northern slopes of the Vihorlat Hills: the Snina and Stakčín narrow-gauge railways.
At a small celebration in the museum in Zemplínske Hámre recently they finished and evaluated the second stage of the project for the Vihorlat narrow-gauge railway, for which the FÉNIX children's organization obtained a grant within this year’s joint program of U. S. Steel Košice and the Carpathian Foundation called Together for the Region.
“A major target of our project was to raise the level of local inhabitants’ knowledge on the history of two disused narrow-gauge railways in the Vihorlat Hills, as well as to motivate young people and whole families to take up hiking and bike tourism, since part of these railway routes became official bikeways in 2012. In the first stage of the project we restored hiking-trail markings and finished the process of registration of bikeways, which mainly go along the embankments of the disused narrow-gauge railways. Jointly with other partner organizations we restored the first two technical works of the former Stakčín narrow-gauge railway, a more than seven-meter high railway bridge and the longest stone penstock dating from 1917. We set up bilingual boards at the restored sites, and cleared all the bikeways of fallen wood. In order to make transit along the Stakčín narrow-gauge railway bikeway safe, we participated in reconstruction of a further three of the railway bridge system, financed by the municipality of Stakčín. In cooperation with the municipality of Zemplínske Hámre we established an exhibition of historical timber transportation, we identified further interesting elements of both disused narrow-gauge railways in the terrain, which we thought suitable to be presented to the general public,” clarified Daniela Galandová, organizer of the project, which in fact a foursome of partners took part in carrying out.
The town of Stakčín undertook the renovation of another bridge at Rakovec, by now the fifth in the series, and preparation of a relief map of the Snina region for its new use as a model of the former narrow-gauge railways was arranged by the village of Zemplínske Hámre. Both of these local councils and equally the third partner, the Carpathian Biodiversity Protection Foundation in Stakčín, contributed towards a printed tourist map entitled Discover Objects of Interest in the Vihorlat Hills, which had a print run of 4,000. Another project partner was the Forestry and Agriculture Company based at Ulič, the administrator of part of Snina’s narrow-gauge railway zone, which repaired one of its penstocks within the project. Many volunteers, young people and adults, predominantly members of the FÉNIX Snina children's organization, but also partner communities’ inhabitants, took part in clearing the bikeways, restoring technical works, but also cleaning up unofficial landfillsites.
“The most time-consuming activity,” said Daniela Galandová, “was the restoration of the railways' technical sites, during which three technical works of the former Snina railway were restored, namely the Konské cutting, the Kopaný potok waterway, and the stone penstock in the Pri umartom locality. The bridging along the Stakčín railway was re-done as well.” Another part of the project, as its coordinator observed, involved setting up phototraps to monitor selected localities along the bikeways, and thus help eliminate vandalism and the origin of illegal landfills. Interesting historical facts on the narrow-gauge railways and individual technical works are presented to visitors in a newly-published tourist map called Discover Objects of Interest in the Vihorlat Hills. The routes of all these now long-disused narrow-gauge railways are marked on the relief map in the Zemplínske Hámre museum, which forms part of the framework of regional education.
“We have known for a long time about the Together for the Region program, but we could only file an application for a grant after we succeeded in harmonizing all the partners’ interests. We are pleased that the program puts the emphasis on active and real cooperation between the tertiary sector, local councils and the business sector as well. So we also prepared our project in that sense, and the outputs of it may be unconditionally used by the general public,” Daniela Galandová added.