The four sides of Lake Bohinj afford visitors diverse pleasures and limitations, but the body of water itself has become the subject of much debate along a common theme: limiting the impact on its ecosystem from outside influences, both human and otherwise.
The road along the southern edge of Bohinjsko Jezero links Ribcev Laz, where what practical and tourist facilities there are are located, and Ukanc – appropriately translated as ‘the end’. As this thoroughfare is the only route for motorized vehicles to access the Slap Savica waterfall, the valley station of the Vogel cableway, and a scattering of accommodation providers including the Park, Erlah, and the for now derelict Zlatorog, it can get rather busy. It is though possible to walk by the roadside along an elevated path that commands intermittent views through trees of the lake, its abstractness from the road ensuring complete safety. If one knows where to find it, shortly after the Pod Skalco climbing wall a path veers into dense forest further still above the road, and can be continued until reaching the Church of the Holy Spirit, on the very edge of Ukanc. Incidentally, it is on this path that I once lost a rather fine pair of sunglasses, should anyone’s conscience be troubling them…
When in Ukanc which in effect becomes the western fringes of Lake Bohinj, the connection with the lakeside becomes more indistinct until reaching the northern side, quite simply the highlight of this astonishing body of water. Primeval is perhaps an overused word in modern day parlance, especially when the world is becoming a smaller place thanks to Instagram ‘influencers’ and a billion camera phones, but all lakes should have a least one side like this: no traffic(or cycling), an undulating, rocky, sometimes flooded and therefore impassable path, and except for an abandoned trout farm, a complete absence of any commercial activities. From this situation where alpine remoteness is soon felt, the far side of the lake and and its towering forested slopes leading beyond the Hotel Bellevue to Vogel’s top station look equally as impenetrable, and far more distant than the reality. The ephemeral Govic waterfall that on occasion of exceptionally heavy rain acts as an overflow for the extensive cave network above Lake Bohinj is a spectacular sight, but will likely herald the path’s impassibility and in such scenarios, should only be viewed from relatively afar.
Heading back towards civilization brings this circular tour to the lake’s eastern fringes, which despite having a designated path is less formal and gives opportunities to interface with the water’s edge. I do not advocate stepping off paths to further individual agendas but in this area of Lake Bohinj it is almost assumed that the path is merely a guide for those venturing from point a to b, and that the tantalizing sight of the lapping waters and an infinite wealth of photo opportunities magnetizes those either passing through or who have made this side of the lake their end goal. Before heading back to Ribcev Laz through momentary dense forest, the Kramar restaurant is an excellent stopping off point for refreshments with photographic benefits.
To wheel out a tired cliche there is something for everyone at Bohinj, whether you take its appellation to mean the whole region, the lake itself, or the mountainscape above and around it. It is though to these diverse opportunities that Bohinj’s municipality and tourist association have become increasingly concerned by both the behaviour of a minority of visitors, and the sheer number who arrive during particularly clement weather conditions.
One of the main issues which in the main has been ironed out is the stream of traffic stretching between Bohinjska Bistrica and Ribcev Laz, much of which consists of personal vehicles that the lake is ill-equipped to deal with – even if they are legally parked. A successful park and ride scheme was instituted several years ago and has since grown, allowing cars to be parked well away from the lake whilst their owners are shuttled back and forth by bus. Organized parking close to the lake is still possible, albeit spaces have been and will continue to be vastly reduced, but is now charged at rates many would consider to be punitive, even prohibitively expensive.
Activities in the lake itself and along its foreshore have for a while also been of some concern. There is a prevailing human trait that will always have existed to some degree but during the last few years has really taken hold: doing what one pleases when it suits, and without any regard of its likely consequences to other individuals and the world at large. It is surely tacitly with this in mind that the habits of some visitors need(ed) to be nipped in the bud, dissuaded from, and as a last resort fines be levied against persistent offenders. It is sad that the local tourist association and municipality have had to decree that the grounds of the iconic Church of St. John is not a beach, and visitors should dress appropriately and modestly when in its vicinity. Whether a Christian or not, it astonishes me that things have got so bad that this has had to form part of the new guidance for visitors to Lake Bohinj.
The lake itself is a living, breathing ecological entity of such fragility that even the previous best efforts of the Bohinj and Triglav National Park(TNP) authorities have been unable to stop a rise in pollution, and a risk of alien species being imperceptibly introduced into the water. Issues with sun cream polluting the water can be mitigated by the providing of environmentally-friendly alternatives, and encouraging visitors to bring their own. Dog fouling is a universal problem, with Bohinj not being an exception. Leaving canines in vehicles is of course never an option, but neither is allowing them to run off leads. The risk of contamination to the lake is again considerable, as is the danger to humans from Toxocariasis.
Perhaps the most eye-catching of the raft(pun intended) of new public ordinances specific to the lake is the banning of colourful bathing accessories that are not safety-related. The concern of alien species being introduced into the ecosystem of an alpine lake by items of unknown provenance was surely born from the likelihood of such occurrences taking place, and the untold damage wrought before it was known to have taken place. There is of course a touch of subjectivity about ‘colourful’ bathing inflatables, but it has been rightly pointed out that from an aesthetic perspective but also the likely if albeit imperceptibly degrading of plastic when in the water, that Lake Bohinj is not a water park, nor a repository for one-use ephemera and associated tourism-related garbage. Full implementation of these rules is expected to take effect in 2022, with the raising of awareness and constructive dialogue with visitors seen as a fitting precursor during the current summer season.
It astound me that some who visit such an ecologically sensitive location see fit to leave behind their individual and collective calling cards, and fail to treat with respect an area that they are presumably attracted to in the first place. Many people will be unaware of the impact that their behaviour can have, and will gladly moderate it accordingly. There will though be others who refuse to comply, which will put the relevant authorities to the test as to how they enforce the new rules, which will also probably dissuade some from visiting instead of being seen to be told ‘what to do’.
Bohinj is not trying to sift who visits, nor portray itself as a snobbish ‘resort’ that excludes on the grounds of status, wealth, etc. Nature can and should be enjoyed by all sections of society with no exceptions, but it has to be done so on its own terms – not by unilateral codes of conduct which vary from person to person. It was perhaps assumed for too long that all those who came to Bohinj did so from a respectful perspective, and have nature conservation at heart. Whilst the tide of human behaviour has sadly turned, and is likely to deteriorate further once post-pandemic stampedes to holiday hot spots become possible, Bohinj has acted appropriately and perhaps controversially so, if only because it is relatively rare in this era of so called personal freedom that so many human activities have not only been put under the spotlight, but roundly condemned as harmful.
It is not though a case of simply attracting the ‘right kind’ of tourist, but educating those who might not otherwise fall within that rubric of the long-term consequences that can rise from fleeting fun. Some will embrace it, others won’t, but Bohinj is not a water park nor a tourist resort, and will not bow the knee to such sensibilities in the pursuit of easy money at the expense of its surroundings.
Source material and further information:
Koroske Novice: http://www.koroskenovice.si/slovenija-in-svet/novice-slovenija-in-svet/na-bohinjskem-jezeru-prepoved-kopalnih-pripomockov-in-glasne-glasbe-na-dolocenem-obmocju-prepovedano-tudi-kolesarjenje/