The Rożnów Lake is located about 13 km away from Nowy Sącz. It stretches across several communes, beginning in Kurów and ending at the Rożnów Dam. The Dunajec Valley forms a gorge here, enclosed by the Łososina Range of the Island Beskids from the west, and by the Rożnów Foothills from the east. The outline of the Rożnów Lake looks like an irregular letter “S”. In some places, its width reaches 2 km.
The Rożnów Lake is not, as some may think, a natural body of water. It was created by man in response to the floods scourging the Dunajec Valley. In 1934, as a result of intense rainfall, the Dunajec ravaged the Nowy Sącz region and beyond. The losses recorded during that period were enormous and a decision was made to build reservoirs that would protect the inhabitants from the effects of violent storms in the future (sources state that the intention to build a hydroelectric power station already appeared at the beginning of the 20th century). Construction work began in 1936. The hydroelectric power station in Rożnów was established as a result of the dam construction. It was commissioned in 1942, and by 1943, the reservoir was completely filled with water. The work was carried out by Polish and French workers. Due to the unavailability of today’s machines and equipment, it was mostly performed by builders, and the rocks and materials were brought by a freight train from Marcinkowice. At the time, this was a huge undertaking. In the years 1936-1937, the process of moving people out of the areas intended for the reservoir began. First, homes for the French, who came here with their families, were built, followed by a housing complex for the workers and a railway for the transport of materials. After the outbreak of the war, German engineers slightly altered the construction plans and supervised progress themselves. In 1944, the spectre of losing the war brought about the idea of blowing up the dam. Members of Wehrmacht started preparing the plan, but because of the approaching Red Army, their plan ended with a disassembly of the generator, which was recovered from the water by the workers and installed back about a dozen hours later, and the dam could operate again.
The Rożnów Dam was constructed in a place, where the channel of the Dunajec was relatively narrow and there were numerous jutting rocks, which caused boat and raft accidents when the Dunajec used to serve as a transport route. These jutting rocks were allegedly the remains of Diabli Most (Devil’s Bridge) – according to the legend, this was a place where a peasant met the devil, whom he bet that he will not be able to cross the river dry-shod. The devil took up the challenge, certain he would win thanks to his powers. Yet the peasant was cunning and made a condition that the devil has to do it in one night. The devil hit on an idea that he will outsmart the peasant and build a bridge. And so he began to throw huge rocks from the nearby crags and hills into the channel of the Dunajec. Right before dawn, he was just about to throw the last rock and cross the river dry-shod. At the same time, the peasant went out to take his cows to graze and, having noticed the devil flying with the last rock, he sang “Be Greeted Thou Morning Star”. The devil stopped in mid-air and dropped the rock, destroying all of his work. The peasant won the bet and only ruins in the form of jutting rocks, hindering navigation, were left from the bridge. What is interesting here is the fact that because of this legend, the Rożnów Dam is sometimes called the Devil’s Bridge.
It is impossible to cross the Dam, it is not a shortcut, and the road is fenced and constitutes a restricted area solely for the power station employees. As time went by and the surroundings changed, the Rożnów Lake started to serve as a recreational area. Every year, tourists come to Gródek nad Dunajcem, Rożnów, Znamirowice, Tęgoborze or Tabaszowa on hot summer days. The Rożnów Lake is about 18-20 km long – this depends on the level of water and the time of the year, and its depth can even reach up to 30 m in some places. The shoreline stretches over more than 50 km and the reservoir itself may hold up to 190 million m3 of water. The dam is not just a power plant, but also a tourist attraction. Visitors can rent a pedal boat or a sailing boat and sail out to admire the views or simply sunbathe with a good book. It is also a good place for anglers. At a distance of at least 100 m from the dam, they may set their fishing rods and cast lines – the lake is home to the zander, pike, asp, bream, carp, and many other species of fish.
The main centre for water sports is located in Gródek nad Dunajcem, where a beach and marked camping spots are also available. Those who love the peace and quiet should look for a different place to relax – during the summer season, the area is very popular and flooded with tourists. Gródek nad Dunajcem also offers a perfect view of the Grodzisko Island, commonly known as “Monkey Island”. It is a protected landscape complex and public access is not permitted, but the island can be admired from a distance of around a dozen metres – the best idea is to go around it in a sailing boat or a pedal boat.
Due to its location and function of regulating the water level in the Dunajec, the Rożnów Lake struggles with pollution and siltation. During heavy rainfall, the rising groundwater picks up rubbish and pollution from the banks, carrying it towards the lake. As a result, waste washed ashore, and each year, lake shore cleaning events are organised, mainly by environmentalists and anglers. Some places are heavily silted (in the area of Tęgoborze, Bartkowa-Posadowa, and Sienna). The Association of the Communes of the Rożnów Lake, as well as the Commune of Gródek nad Dunajcem and Łososina Dolna are waging a fight for a clean bottom of the lake, striving to obtain funds for its desilting.
The water in the lake is tested before and during the summer season. There are lifeguards near the main bathing beaches (including Gródek nad Dunajcem) and most of these places provide free access to the water.
The surroundings of the Rożnów Lake abound in culture and local traditions. Various groups are active within the lake’s communes – regional folk groups, associations, orchestras, and folk artists. The village of Rożnów is one of those which enjoy popularity. The village itself was established around the 13th century (the first mentions of the village date back to that period). It owes its name to the great family of Griffins (House of Griffins) – the Rożen family. One of its members was the owner of most of the land within the area. He built a castle and its stronghold was named Rożnów – with time, the name began to include the entire village. In the 15th century, the village became the property of the Tarnowski family, and in the 18th century, of the Stadnicki family, who lost their land after the war and the village became the property of the Polish State Treasury.
Apart from the Dam, Rożnów also offers ruins of the Lower Castle and the Zawisza Czarny (Upper) Castle. The Upper Castle was most probably built in the mid-14th century. Zawisza Czarny (Zawisza the Black), a knight known from the Battle of Grunwald, obtained it by taking it in pledge. The castle was the object of numerous family feuds. Its last owner was Jan Tarnowski, who left it due to the lack of expansion possibilities (especially in terms of its defensive function) and started the construction of a new castle (the Lower Castle), which would expand the fortification of the Dunajec Valley. With time, the Zawisza Czarny Castle fell into ruin, leaving behind just a few fragments of the wall, an outline of the courtyard, and the remains of the tower. Recently, the ruins were repurchased by the Stadnicki family, descendants of Rożnów’s owners. Archaeological work was carried out there, during which finds from a time earlier than the date of the castle’s construction were discovered. The Zamek Zawiszy Czarnego w Rożnowie (Zawisza Czarny Castle in Rożnów) foundation aims at rebuilding the castle and making it a local attraction and a place for relaxation. Napoleon Orda’s surviving sketches depicting the castle will surely be of help.
The construction of the Lower Castle was started by Jan Tarnowski in the mid-16th century, most probably in fear of an attack from the Turks. The work was discontinued because of Tarnowski’s death. The castle was never completed, only some elements were finished, including a siege tower (belluard), a stronghold, a gate building, and a curtain wall. The belluard was a modern building modelled on Italian fortifications. Later, it served as a distillery and a cannon-foundry. Some sources state that a temporary wooden castle was constructed, but to date, it was impossible to confirm these hypotheses. Legends have it that the building was supposed to be connected with the Zawisza Czarny Castle via an underground passageway.