Soomaa Dugout Routes
The flat middle part of Estonia on the imaginary aisle in Peipsi - Võrtsjärve- Pärnu direction is a real water world. Its western edge is covered by Sooma National Park – land of great swamps and mighty rivers. It contains five fens with thick forests and extensive flood plains dividing them. The waters here are extraordinary – the numerous rivers meet in a rather small area between fens and swamp forests. Water from the nearby Sakala uplands can during the spring time melting or rain season unleash such an avalancehe of water that rivers break out of their banks. This almost Biblical flood happens every year – around here Flood is the name of the fifth season. The spring time spectacle of the forces of nature in Soomaa is grandiose and a bit cruel - flooded area often supersceding hundred square kilometers. Water level in local rivers has been recorded to differ up to 6 meters during the dry and flood seasons. This also reflects in the local traditions – even the barns have two storeys here, when the flood came animals were taken to the second floor. Very often the dugout was the only means to get out of the house and that is why it has been preserved in many families living in the vicinity of the national park.
The best known among the rivers here is Halliste river, which starts in the Sakala uplands and flows between two great fens – Kikerpää and Öördi. Halliste river flows past Läti wooded meadow – a scenic plain, which is bordered with a great forest – Pääsmaa woodland.
The source of Raudna river is in Lake Viljandi and the river itself flowing through Soomaa has the biggest geological diversity. Near its source the river banks are steep and high, but nearing Halliste river they become more flat and end with similar wide flood plains.
Lemmjõgi river flowing into Raudna river has the most intimate atmostphere of the Soomaa rivers. Its enigmatic attraction is best experienced from a small boat. Lemmjõgi is slow and sinuous. It winds its way through many bends under the forests, bordered with fluttering Elms, Oaks and Bird Cherries, on the right bank one can see a stretch of Kuresoo fen.
Tõramaa river is small compared to other Soomaa rivers, but on its banks it hosts the Visitors’ Center of Soomaa National Park. All the described rivers flow into each other at a close distance and Halliste gathers the waters of his brothers, just to take them “against the flow“ to Navesti river. The meeting point of the rivers is the most popular place for boat, canoe or dugout trips. During the massive floods in spring and autumn it is possible to take the vessel on the meadows or to the forests.
The flora and fauna of Soomaa are compelling. During the trips on the river one must often pass over or under fallen aspen trunks, other signs of beavers are also clearly visible. Besides beaver another little creature is quite common here – the otter. During the great floods numerous migratory water fowl can be seen on the flood plains. In the swamp forests it is possible to run into White-backed Woodpecker and Three-toed Woodpecker. Hovering over the flood plain one can spot Lesser Spotted Eagle or Black Stork. There are numerous nesting areas of Great Snipes on the alluvial meadows. Golden Eagles dwell in the fens. Also bigger predators like wolves, lynxes and bears are roaming in the wilderness of the huge national park. The flood plains are blue with Iris Sibiricas, in places Gladiolus Imbricatus and different orchids are growing.
Besides its enormous natural value as a national park Soomaa holds also the cultural heritage of the region. Keeping alive the traditional Finno-ugric single-log dugout dating back to the stone age is one of the most noteworthy achievements. To popularise this ancient vessel dugout builiding camps are organised every summer in Saarisoo tourism farm, where it is also possible to test the one-log canoe on the many rivers of Soomaa. In addition to the dugout another peculiar tradition very common to this flooded region has been preserved – namely suspension- and trestle bridges. These were installed to appropriate places before the floods to enhance transport between the farms on opposite riverbanks, in the spring when the ice started to move and the water level went down the bridges were removed again. They were often used to take animals to the opposite riverbank – a task too big for thin bottomed and narrow dugouts. Today guests are welcome to see hanging bridges in Sandra village near Karuskose, in Tipu village in Latvia, also in Aesoo and Leetva. The waterways of Soomaa were also used for logging. Winter ways played an important role in this swampy area – in winter time they were best for trade exchange with Pärnu and Viljandi, also frozen roads were suitable for transporting building materials, timber and other heavy goods. Usually merchants moved in big caravans on horses and sledges.
In addition there are several museums in Soomaa, for example the House Museum of Johann Köler (1826-1899), the founder of Estonian national painting. The museum is situated in Ivaski village in Lubjasaare in a traditional 19. century farm complex. Here one can get to know the life and creation of this famous artist, and learn about traditional Estonian farm life. In Hüpassaare there is the House Museum of Mart Saar, the famous composer (1882-1963). The Farm Museum in Väike-Männiku is an authentic small farm from the beginning of the XX century with a permanent exhibition about the everyday life of a farmer and the cultural heritage of Soomaa. In addition to visiting the Visitors’ Center of Soomaa National Park and wandering on the nature trails, nature fans can visit the Kurekiiva Farm Museum of Stuffed Animals, where besides seeing more than 50 exhibits guests can talk to the head of the farm and the master taxidermist Peeter Rohila.