The ASCENT Partnership met in Ruka near Kuusamo, Northern Finland. Site visits were held on Tuesday 12th and Wednesday 13th September. Parks & Wildlife Finland staff hosted the site visits. The aim was to show challenges connected with path building and growing visitor numbers. New materials and solutions are being tried, with various results. They may differ from what other partners have, as traditions and materials vary from one country to another. PWF hoped that the site visits would give an insight on how building is done on state owned protection areas in Finland. As path building and management can be done in many ways, it was an inspiration to hear opinions and solutions from other partners. Exchanging ideas on the field while inspecting different structures and methods is a very efficient way to get hands on solutions to whatever problems and challenges partners may face. The best way to get inspiration is to see how things can be done, which solutions work and which ones don’t.
Hossa National Park
Hossa National Park was established in June 2017 to celebrate Finland’s 100th anniversary of independence. It is Finland’s 40th national park and it’s approx. 110 km2 in size. Prior to the national park, the area was a State Recreational Area.
Most of Hossa is covered with forests which are pine-dominated and rugged. There are lots of small mires but Hossa is mostly known for its more than a hundred small and clear watered lakes. Hossa is a meeting point of three waterways. It is no surprise that fishing and canoeing are amongst the most popular activities in the area. The Värikallio rock paintings date from 3000 to 4000 years ago and attract lots of visitors, as well.
During the site visit to Hossa National Park, staff from Parks & Wildlife Finland gave an overview to the variety of works that have been done in the NP. Most of the structures and trails date from earlier decades, but lots of up-grading has had to be done in order to meet requirements of growing visitor numbers and the status as a national park – and the works are ongoing as by far not all was finished during summer 2017. In Hossa, a lot of emphasis has been put on accessibility, which has meant new solutions to path and structure building and engagement of user groups. Hossa is a national pioneer in accessibility. Visitor numbers have more than doubled in 2017 due to the establishment of the national park and the huge publicity it has gained both in Finland and abroad.
We visited the Nature Centre where an introduction to the area was given by Park Superintendent Kerttu Härkönen. The first outing was at Muikkupuro (“Burn of Small Whitefish”). This site has a fireplace and a compost toilet. It has been chosen as one of the accessible sites of the NP. The 1,5 km path leading to the spot has been widened and covered by gravel to make access possible to wheelchairs and baby prams etc. All structures at the site are accessible to special groups, as well.
Our second site visit took us to Julma Ölkky, a narrow lake in the North parts of the NP. Massive path building works have taken place here, including stone stairs, a suspension bridge across the lake and installing a metal staircase.
Julma Ölkky has always been one of the most popular sites in the Hossa area. A path around the whole lake is about 10 km long. With the new suspension bridge halfway across the lake, the allure of the site has exploded and visitor numbers have rocketed. The estimated number of visitors is 18 000 people during summer season 2017. The growth was expected and the path has been made more durable by spreading gravel in places. Works were finished in October. Safety is an issue in Julma Ölkky, as the rocky slope is very steep. Therefore, the path has been moved further away from the edge. However, walkers tend to go close the edge to take pictures of the great view along the beautiful lake.
Riisitunturi National Park
Northwest of Kuusamo lies the Riisitunturi National Park, established in 1982. It is 77km2 in size and represents the taiga forest zone of the Eurasian continent. Most of the park is covered with candle-like spruces and thick moss. Riisitunturi is known for its hills; thirteen tops reach over 400 metres above the sea level, the highest of which are the two tops of Riisitunturi Fell.
Planning Officer Pekka Veteläinen took our group for an 11 km walk through the NP showing and explaining the challenges that work on the field has had to offer. It became obvious that one of the biggest challenges on a hilly terrain is path material moving and disappearing with water running down the slopes. Riisitunturi is one of the few places in Finland to have hanging bogs, making path maintenance very difficult as the ground is very wet and turns muddy under the walkers’ feet. Paths tend to spread fast as visitors try to find a dry spot to step on. To avoid this, gravel has been laid on paths, but unfortunately in many places it has shifted. Thus, the problem of spreading paths remains in places.
Two presentations were given at the Thematic Seminar on Tuesday 12th September. Field Work Manager Leena Jartti and Planning Officer Vesa Simonen introduced the implementation planning in PWF, with the emphasis on a newly launched GIS System “PAVE”. This system contains all information on buildings, trails and archaeological sites on state owned protected land in the whole of Finland. It’s connected to other GIS system within Metsähallitus and can therefore be used for several purposes. All targets on PAVE have an information sheet that includes details on e.g. materials, condition, previous works etc. depending on what kind of a target is in question. An implementation plan can be drawn using the data available on PAVE; with the option to follow the progress and state of the plan.
Regional Manager Matti Tapaninen introduced the theory and practice of LAC system (Limits of Acceptable Change). LAC is a tool to monitor the impact of recreation and nature tourism in a given area. PWF has decided on six principles of nature tourism. From those principles, numerous measurable indicators can be derived. Indicators can be connected to e.g. visitor experience, use of firewood, state of endangered species etc. The limits of acceptable change are managerial decisions and a tool for the management of an area. The ultimate aim is to secure the economical, ecological and social sustainability of Finland’s protected areas.