Volcanic landscape and geotourism

Geotope Conference 2021 in the Volcanic Region.

Hiking guide Bernd Reiss shows the excursion participants the largest basalt quarry in Central Europe (Source: C. Plass)

Members of the German Geoparks Association in front of the Historical town hall in Schotten (Source: L. Habekost)

Excursion participants in the Herbstein cellar - Geotope of the year 2011 (Source: L. Habekost)

Attempt Numero 3 has succeeded - finally actors from the geosciences came together again on site for this year's GeoTop meeting. After two postponements due to the prevailing corona situation, the Vogelsberg Volcanic Region National Geopark was pleased to invite to the 24th International Meeting in the low mountain range region. Between October 7th and 10th, Schotten was the center and venue for the conference theme "Geotourism - real opportunity or hype for a sustainable regional development?"

Geotourism is an important touristic aspect on which not only the volcanic region wants to build up continuously. Geoparks play an important role worldwide in this regard. They attract visitors to the region with "geological heritage" - what does that mean? (Active) quarries, rock formations, caves, mines, springs, rock outcrops - all of these are designed to reveal the region's history. Why does it look like this today, how has it developed over time? And it's not just about picking up the visitor. It is also important to sensitize the inhabitants with geo-attractions and to show how their own region has been shaped by earth's history. Important are information centers, information panels in the area, guided tours, lectures and the appreciation of nature! Why? So the geo-topic is anchored in people's minds - not only among scientists, but also with the general public.

The Vogelsberg Volcanic Region National Geopark draws a positive balance after the conference weekend with about 100 participants. Pre-excursions to the Vogelsberg High Moor, the Vogelsberg Garden Geostation and the Warte Geotope provided an initial introduction to the volcanic region.

For the public evening lecture on Thursday, Prof. Dr. Otto Volk - historian and retired senior academic councillor as well as scientific coordinator of the Route of Industrial Culture - was won. He spoke about Philipp Engel Klipstein and the beginnings of geological research in the Vogelsberg in the 18th century. Afterwards, the Geopark invited to the "Kuschel "rock" evening in front of the festival hall - Vogelsberg specialties were awaiting the visitors, while they had the opportunity to talk about their first experiences and greet old familiar faces.

The next day was opened by District Administrator Manfred Goerig, the chairman of the town council Hans Dieter Herget (Schotten), the chairman of the section Geotopes and Geoparks Dr. Henning Zellmer and the managing director of the Vogelsberg Volcanic Region Tourism GmbH, Petra Schwing-Doering which welcomed the geo-interested in the festival hall in Schotten once again. The lecture blocks were moderated by Hubert Strauss, in the accompanying program exhibition booths, a poster exhibition and a small rock collection on the upper floor of the festival hall provided further information.

The opening lecture on Friday was held by Charlotte Redler (Hessian State Agency for Nature Conservation, Environment and Geology) a geological journey through the Vogelsberg. In addition to regional dimensions, such as the presentation of the industrial culture of Central Hesse by Manuel Heinrich (Regionalmanagement Mittelhessen), on a national level the term "geotourism" as a key concept between geosciences, regional development and educational work was illuminated more intensively by Christoph Ellger from the GeoUnion Alfred Wegener Foundation. The international dimension showed dinosaurs of the deep sea, the conference participants were also taken to the south of Switzerland and to the volcanic region of Styria.

As a closing event, the Ruhr Area Geopark introduced itself as the organizer of the GeoTop 2022.

A highlight of the conference for many participants were probably the field excursions to the largest contiguous volcanic area in Central Europe. On the "Northwestern" tour with the topic "Sand, Basalt and Ore - Geological Paths open up (not only) the history of the earth!" (excursion leader: Christina Plass (National Geopark), Andreas Rueb (geo- and nature park guide, DVG), Karl Rudi (Art Tower Muecke, DVG), Bernd Reiss (hiking guide Homberg/Ohm)) one went via Ulrichstein through the Ohm valley to Homberg/Ohm. There, participants hiked a section of the "Felsenmeer" geotour, were able to take a look at the largest basalt quarry in Central Europe and got to know the "Dicke Steine" geotope. A short tour through the half-timbered town of Homberg/Ohm with a visit to the Geostation Museum im Brauhaus including the cellar followed, before continuing to the Geostation Art Tower in Muecke. The former ore loading station now hosts regular art exhibitions by regional and (inter)national artists. A short hike on the Southern Ore Trail with a visit to the Deutschland mine ("Weickartshainer Schweiz") rounded off the program.

The second tour (excursion guide: Hartmut Greb (National Geopark), Susanne Jost (geo- and nature park guide)) led from the highest peak into the Lauterbacher Graben (Trench). There was a lot to see here in terms of geotourism - the geo-info center on the local mountain Hoherodskopf, the geotopes Hoherodskopfgipfel, the legendary Uhuklippen and the Teufelstisch as well as a section of the geopath in the Schwarzbachtal. Indispensable the Devil's Mill in Hochwaldhausen, which was awarded the Hessian Monument Protection Prize in 2014, and the Herbstein cellar, which was named Geotope of the Year in 2011. The Hessian Wartburg - the Eisenbach Castle near Lauterbach - was explored, then columnar basalt in the Hasenkoeppel Quarry geotope near Lauterbach-Frischborn awaited the excursion participants, as well as the Kalkberg near Lauterbach-Maar - a relic of industrial culture in the Lauterbach Graben (Trench).

The third "geological" excursion (tour leader: Charlotte Redler (HLNUG), Kerstin Baer (DVG, Vogelsberg section)) took place on Saturday and Sunday and presented impressions from the "hot phase" of the Vogelsberg - "lava, bombs, ash, craters". Various quarries in the region were visited, starting with the Glauberg quarry. Here participants got to admire thin lava flows on the Celtic mountain. This was followed by the Michelnau quarry, unique in Europe, with its striking red rock. The third quarry near Langd explained volcanic history in four parts. Things got a bit more complicated in the Ober-Widdersheim quarry, and the tour ended in the trachyte quarry at Haeuserhof. There the topic "basalt massif" was once again discussed.

Geotouristically, there was a lot to see, a lot to experience, a lot to process in the Vogelsberg volcanic region. The weather served the organizers perfectly in the form of a golden October weekend, and so Hartmut Greb and Christina Plass were able to bid farewell to satisfied conference and excursion participants at the Geotope Conference 2021. See you again in the German Mining Museum Bochum from May 19th - 22nd, 2022 in the Ruhr Area National Geopark.