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See the forest through different eyes - On the Rothaarsteig with a ranger

· 1 review · from Patrick Bierther & Stefanie Stoltenberg · October 12, 2020 · Travelog · Siegerland-Wittgenstein
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  • Ranger with family in the forest
    Ranger with family in the forest
    Photo: Klaus-Peter Kappest, Touristikverband Siegerland-Wittgenstein e.V.
A hike along the Rothaarsteig is always an excursion for all of the senses. The experience of nature is even more intensive when accompanied by a ranger. You can forget time on the Rothaarsteig and slow down wonderfully.

Our companion for this family hike is hard to miss. Matthias Speck is wearing a broad-brimmed hat with the symbol of the Rothaarsteig trail, a flat R in white on a dark red background. Rangers can be recognised by this and by the forest administration coat of arms on their arm.

A ranger? What is that? The German word for this is “Schutzgebietsbetreuer”, but the term borrowed from the National Park Rangers in the US sounds more catchy. There is a total of ten rangers in South Westphalia, with six of these on the Rothaarsteig. Since 2003, Speck and his five colleagues have been points of contact for anyone hiking along the Rothaarsteig, also known as the “way of the senses”.

Ranger Matthias Speck looks at his hiking map
Ranger Matthias Speck looks at his hiking map
You begin to relax after just a few steps along the premium hiking trail. The trails are well-maintained, so your mind is free to allow the sensory impressions come and go: the sound of the wind in the treetops, the smell of the forest floor and resin, the knocking of a woodpecker, the buzzing around the beehives and the spectacular view into the distance from the “Nase im Wind” (nose to the wind) viewing platform.

All-rounder forest: habitat for animals and plants, recreational area for people

The rangers provide expert accompaniment so that both younger and older visitors can experience the forest with all of their senses. They offer forest experience tours that run for several hours and each of them has their own specialist area. For Matthias Speck, it is “animal trails in the forest” and “Hauberg forest management”.

“Hauberg is a form of sustainable forest management typical of Siegerland, which is still practised today”, explains Speck. “This form of forest management is hundreds of years old and yet entirely modern, because sustainability is a major topic again today. Hauberg management allows the trees time to grow and only a few are felled, so the forest remains in balance. Today, the forest is seen through different eyes and no longer primarily as an economic region. It is a multi-talent: A habitat for animals and plants, a place to relax for humans. The forest also protects against noise and is good for the air, water and soil.”

Hikers climb the Tiefenrother Höhe
Hikers climb the Tiefenrother Höhe
What was that? Was that a hare scurrying through the undergrowth? The ranger is quite aware of the presence of animals: He has a trained eye for tracks, can recognise signs of feeding and identify what animal was there from its droppings. “Deer are the most common creatures here”, says Speck, “and many species of bird.” What animals impress him the most? “The wildcats. It is always a really special experience to catch a glimpse of one passing by.”

The ranger points out furrows in the bark of a slender tree. He takes a deer antler from his rucksack and explains how a buck rubbed the velvet from his antlers here.

The working areas of a ranger

You forget time on the Rothaarsteig. Even Matthias Speck himself can “slow down wonderfully” there. A dream job? “Many envy me because of it. But the working day consists of more than just going for walks.”

He lists out the tasks: Taking care of trails and walkways, maintaining forest experience trails, protecting nature, including making sure that there is no rubbish lying about. There are hardly any litter bins: “Most of them were removed: The raccoons were too interested in the contents”, laughs Speck.

Visitors touch small saplings with the ranger. The brown sprigs feel rough like sandpaper. “That is why this tree is called the “Sandbirke” (silver birch), explains Speck. Later on, the bark will turn black and white.

A lot is planted in Siegen-Wittgenstein, the most densely forested region in Germany. More than 80 percent of the forests are privately owned. Many of the owners relied on spruce for a long time but now they are changing to more durable species like fir, Douglas fir, ash and maple. Climate change is becoming obvious and is of course a topic on the guided tours.

Organized hiking · Südwestfalen
Ranger buchen
Sie haben Interesse daran die Ranger einmal zu begleiten? Kein Problem! Auf ihren spannenden Streifzügen, Exkursionen und Führungen bringen die ...
Provider:  Ranger Südwestfalen | Source:  Touristikverband Siegerland-Wittgenstein e.V.
Ranger Matthias Speck offers about 75 tours per year and has great fun with the children in particular. He recently took some primary school children on a tour. Some of the boys got really excited: “A bird exploded over there!” There were feathers on the ground. Speck explained: “It had been the victim of a plucking. Another creature had eaten it”.
What does the ranger like most about his job? “The people that come into the forest are always in a good mood. They come in their free time after all.”

And what does Matthias Speck do in his free time? “Then”, he laughs and take a breath of forest air, “I like to go hiking with my own three children in our local forest”.

Ranger Matthias Speck
Ranger Matthias Speck
 

Matthias Speck, born in 1969, a trained forester, has known his territory since childhood. Offers tours as a ranger for

Landesbetrieb Wald und Holz Nordrhein- Westfalen (North Rhine-Westphalia State Forestry and Timber Agency) and ensures the safety and well-being of visitors on the Rothaarsteig premium hiking trail. Speck and his five ranger colleagues are also trained as nature and landscape conservationists. Their focus is on people in the forest: Hikers, cyclists, joggers and riders.


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Patrick Bierther & Stefanie Stoltenberg
Updated: October 12, 2020

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