By Yevgenia Smolskaya
The monument to 19th century hydro-technical architecture has already received a great deal of state funding for its reconstruction and is now awaiting an investor. The Avgustovsky Canal is among the most ecologically clean zones in Belarus, attracting tourists to see its rare ecosystem and its unique historical status. However, specialists consider that, for tourism to really take off along the Canal, further investments into infrastructure are needed in this picturesque corner of Belarus.
The Avgustovsky Canal was built as a water trading route connecting the Nieman and Visla rivers, constructed by the best architects in Europe. On both sides of the Belarusian-Polish border, visitors have been attracted by its unique situation and significance.
The part situated in Poland has been revamped over the past forty years and is now a favourite place for Polish tourists, generating revenue for the state. The city of Augustow, with its 30,000 population, annually welcomes up to 300,000 tourists. In turn, the Belarusian part of the Canal was quite neglected during the post-war years, with nature creeping back to reclaim the site. Major reconstruction began in 2004, after much dispute as to the extent of repair required.
The Canal is now restored and is being entered for inclusion on the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage List, being among the most popular tourist routes in the Grodno region. However, the potential of this ‘pearl’ by the Nieman River is yet to be fully realised. Having studied the situation, the Grodno Regional Executive Committee has initiated the establishment of the GrodnoTurInvest Free Economic Zone (as part of the Grodnoinvest FEZ).
This would aid the attraction of funds into infrastructure development (new hotels, spas, recreation places and road repairs). Legislation governs tax privileges and preferences for FEZ residents, encouraging such investment. Specialists believe that the facilitated development of the tourism industry could aid other economic branches, such as agriculture, transport, public catering and services.
In a word, the Canal is now facing a new stage of its development.
“A package of documents regarding the establishment of the GrodnoTurInvest FEZ has already been co-ordinated with interested agencies and ministries,” explains the Deputy Head for Physical Culture, Sports and Tourism at the Grodno Regional Executive Committee, Mikhail Kazhuro. He believes that a change of status for the international Rudavka-Lesnaya border checkpoint — from water to water-foot, with use of bicycles — would also help attract tourists to the Canal and its environs. The Regional Executive Committee has already addressed the Sports and Tourism Ministry with a request to liberalise the visa regime for foreigners staying along the Canal for a period of up to five days, aiming to encourage tourism.
Infrastructure development is not an ultimate goal. The Avgustovsky Canal connects our three neighbouring states, passing through Poland and Belarus before flowing into the River Nieman, which continues to Lithuania. Its opening along its whole route will allow cruises to the Baltic Sea, linking the resort areas of Polish Augustow, Lithuanian Druskininkai and Belarusian Porechie-Sopotskin.