An industrial nature park.
That’s how I would describe the Stöffel Park in Enspel, Germany, after my recent visit. That probably doesn’t do justice to the park, nestled amid the picturesque Westerwald region of Rhineland-Pfalz, but the site is so unusual, it’s hard to put a traditional description to it.
The park showcases an interesting combination of industry, geology and nature. While it might seem an odd mixture, it works, and the topics blend seamlessly.
It was in this area where volcanoes flourished 25 million years ago in what was then a subtropical region. Visiting now, it’s hard to imagine that crocodiles and Cypress trees once called the area’s lake home. When the volcanoes erupted and pools of lava poured into the lake, basalt developed as the lava cooled.
Millions of years later, basalt was discovered to be an ideal multipurpose material, used for everything from construction of homes to statues.
The industrial section of the park showcases turn-of-the-century buildings used in the mining and processing of basalt, which, according to park literature, gave the region a drastic economic upswing.
Although basalt is still processed in the area, the buildings in the industrial section of Stöffel Park are no longer in use. The structures and their interior components are left intact, though. It’s fascinating to walk through the insides and see the old equipment, tools and conveyer belts, imagining what it was like when industry here was booming.
The eerie quiet of the interiors and the rusted machines gave me the euphoric rush of a teenager snooping around an abandoned factory that I’d been warned was off-limits.
For the adventurous, the outside of one of the industrial buildings has been converted to a rock climbing wall. There’s also off-road mountain biking. Both can be arranged by calling the park before visiting.
Stöffel Park’s grounds are open, meaning you can take as much or as little time admiring the attractions as you wish. There are various intertwining themed trails, offering sites and hands-on exhibits stretching for miles. An 11-mile hiking trail through the Westerwald also winds through the park.
One of the more interesting treks is the geology-themed trail, featuring barefoot paths, gardens and unique art.
You’ll see the site where a 25-million-year-old gliding mouse fossil was discovered in 1992. According to the park, it was the first completely preserved copy of a gliding mouse in the world. A station is also set up where folks can dig through rocks, searching for small animal and leaf fossils.
Near the fossil sites, visitors learn about past and present indigenous biotypes. One of the stranger areas is near the lake, where basalt sculptures blend with antique machine parts and elaborately constructed birdhouses, resembling some kind of vacated civilization.
Signs around the park are all in German, but it’s not necessary to understand them to enjoy the park. Guided English tours are available by calling in advance.
Art historians, science freaks, technology geeks, natural historians and sports enthusiasts will all find something to enjoy at the park.
It’s easily the most unusual park I’ve visited and it’s the kind of place where you’re bound to discover new sights and trails each time you visit.
On the QT
Stöffel Park in Enspel, Germany
GPS address is: Stöffelstrasse
It’s about a one-hour drive from Wiesbaden and two hours from Kaiserslautern.
From March to October, Stöffel Park is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. From November to February, the park is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Opening hours can change as a result of inclement weather. The park is closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
3 euros per adult and 2 euros per child. A family pass (two adults and 1 child) costs 7 euros. Visitors can call in advance to arrange guided tours in English. A variety of pricing options are available for tours, depending on the size of the group and how detailed a tour you want. For a guided group of 30 adults, the price is usually 50 euros. For school classes, the price is 35 euros for the group. To book rock climbing and mountain biking, you must call in advance.
Café Coal Shed at Stöffel Park is open from April to October on Sundays and public holidays. It offers coffee, cakes, soups, sandwiches, and sausage and cheese. The rest of the time, visitors can pick up small snacks at the information center. Large groups wanting to eat at the park should call in advance to make arrangements.
— Mark Patton