Gorgeous Gorges: Tourism of Waterfalls

Nothing shouts holiday than a tranquil water feature in the background for your photos. The most universal of these: the waterfall. Waterfalls are notorious tourist traps wherever they are located. Gullfoss in Iceland (literally translated as golden falls) has so many visitors trodding along the same path that they suffer from footfall erosion.

Footfall erosion occurs over time as the weight of tourists treading on the same path will cause the sediment and rock beneath their feet to wear down. This can lead to the wooden or stone paths being replaced frequently and implementation of measures that keep tourists on those paths, such as railings or fences.

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Krka Waterfalls in Croatia (Photo: Natasha Driscoll)

In Croatia, the famous Krka waterfalls attract locals and tourists desperate to dip into the cooling water the escape the summer heat. Thus the national park, that Krka waterfall is situated within, has attempted several mechanisms to control the tourists’ impact.

  1. Controlling the number of people allowed in the park (near the waterfall) at several times. The stop ticketing and allowing access until an adequate amount has left.
  2. Created wooden paths that are slightly elevated from the ground to reduce the footfall erosion and trampling of precious plants.

However, both of these have been unsuccessful. The hoards of people are crammed onto the wooden paths, and impatience tourists decide to walk on the ground instead to overtake the Instagram photoshoot blocking the path.

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Views of the Krka Waterfalls (Photo: Natasha Driscoll)

 

Formation of waterfalls

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Vintgar Gorge in Slovenia (Photo: Beth Harris)

Waterfalls tend to occur in the upper course of a river, where the majority of the river’s erosion is vertical (meaning that the river is eroding downwards). Erosion is the leading process in waterfall creation, with all form of water (mainly seas and rivers), there are four types: hydraulic action, abrasion, attrition, and corrosion (also referred to as solution). Abrasion is the process where pebbles are carried by the flow of the river and bash against banks and beds of the rivers. Whilst attrition is where these pebbles bash into each other causing small segments to chip off until they get smaller and smaller. Waterfalls leave behind gorges and there is no better example than Vintgar Gorge in Slovenia.

 

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Vintgar Gorge: Showing the layers (strata) of the rock and tourist footpaths (Photo: Beth Harris)

In the images you can see the layers in the rock, layers like this can be caused by seen in both sedimentary and metamorphic rock. Sedimentary rock forms in layers (please see the previous article), although these layers may not be perfectly horizontal when they are uplifted to the surface. Metamorphic rocks may also appear to have layers- caused by pressure and heat during its formation.

Waterfalls form where hard rock overlies softer rock and the water runs off the edge and ends into the plunge pool. The water splashes against the underlying softer rock, causing corrosion to occur. Where debris (broken off pieces of rock) has fallen into the river, two processes will occur. The broken bits bash into each other getting smaller and smaller, known as attrition. These pieces of rock also cause abrasion, where they bump into the banks (sides) and beds (bottom) of the river causing the river to become wider and deeper.

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Diagram of Waterfall Progression: Annotated with the different types of erosion           (Diagram: Natasha Driscoll)

Over time the softer rock erodes back to the point it is unable to support the hard rock on top. This results in the hard rock collapsing into the river, and the front of the waterfall retreats as a result. This process is very similar to the recession of coastal cliff lines (please see link). When then waterfall retreats what is left behind is a gorge: a steep-sided valley showing the path the waterfall has taken.

 

Gorges based tourism in Slovenia

Whilst tourists usually prefer waterfalls for their ‘making everyone jealous’ selfies. However, in Slovenia, the Gorge has become the main attraction due to the super clear glacial water making the water appear a unique shade of crystalised blue.

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Wooden Footpath over the Vintgar Gorge (Photo: Natasha Driscoll)

Wooden paths have been erected to allow a safe place for tourists to walk and reduce footfall erosion. Whilst Krka the wooden paths were so low to the ground and the paths so crowded that people walked off them damaging plants. Whilst at Vintgar Gorge due to the steep-sided aspect of the gorge, the wooden paths are elevated from the ground. Tourists are given no other opportunity but to remain on the path.

It is important to note that the wooden paths may have been more successful at Vintgar Gorge than the Krka Waterfalls due to there being significantly fewer tourists at Vintgar Gorge, allowing them to follow the path with greate ease. There are several reasons for the lower number of tourists. Firstly, Croatia is developed more as a destination than Slovenia for international tourists. Secondly, in the Krka waterfalls, you can swim because the water is calm and the water is cooling compared to the warm Croatian summer. However, at the Vintgar Gorge, the water is glacial meltwater resulting in the water being extremely cold and not pleasurable to swim in. Although only a few degrees of latitude further away from the equator, Slovenia is cooler than Croatia. Its mountainous landscape also means that as you rise in altitude (increase in metres above sea level) the temperature also decreases. Collectively making Vintgar Gorge, not the best swimming location.

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Vintgar Gorge (Photo: Natasha Driscoll)

Food for Thought

Where else have tourism and sustainable management worked together in harmony?

What more can be done for keeping natural sites open for tourists in a sustainable way?

 

 

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