Europe’s Last Free Rivers

I’ve been spending a lot of time in Europe recently; from big cities to the mountain ranges to tiny little villages in the middle of nowhere.

As an American, one of the most striking things I noticed in Europe was the importance of water. Rivers are the lifeblood of this continent. The major cities were built around them, which makes sense, as back in the day waterways were by far the quickest and most efficient method of moving people and goods around.

The European conquest of nature extends far beyond building cities though; almost every single major river on the continent has been dammed for hydroelectric power.

As an American, and one from the West, this fusion of civilization and nature always struck me in an odd way. In the U.S., we usually separate these things. Our nation was built on the back of railroad and automobile infrastructure, which means besides the Mississippi and a few other routes, rivers have largely been left alone. We prefer coal and oil over hydropower (not necessarily a good thing). We also enjoy a deep bond with our public lands.

In the US, our wilderness is untamed and unaltered as much as we can make it so.

For me, this respect for the land and the ecosystems is just as American as the right to own guns, or eat cheeseburgers, or whatever else foreigners associate with our nation. The first time I saw trees painted to mark trails in Hungary, I was horrified. The golden words in the American wilderness areĀ Leave No Trace.

So when I read this article on Adventure Journal about the planned damming of Europe’s last, pristine rivers in the Balkan Peninsula, my initial reaction was pretty negative.

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