The Curonian Spit is a narrow 60-mile strip of sand running from Klaipeda south into the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Formed over 5,000 years ago, the forested dunes of the spit separate the mostly freshwater Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea. The spit’s first inhabitants were Stone Age people who lived lightly on the land, but its later settlers – Western Balts, who spoke a Latvian language – managed to denude the fragile spit of trees by the 16th century. For 300 years the winds and waves battered the area, burying 14 villages under the encroaching dunes.
In 1825 a postal worker named G. D. Kuvertas began planting trees to help stabilize the dunes, and since then an ongoing reforestation project has helped to protect the spit from destruction. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, the Curonian Spit is a strange landscape of corrugated dunes, little villages and forests of linden, elm, birch and pine.
PUBLISHED: July 19, 2013