Repovesi National Park looking to increase its popularity as tourist destination
Kouvola wants national park to benefit city’s economy; conservationists want to advance with caution
By Leena Härkönen in Kouvola
A lively discussion is taking place at the gate of the Repovesi National Park in southeastern Finland.
Park attendant Aarno Tervonen from Metsähallitus, the state enterprise whose task is to manage most of the protected areas of Finland and to supply wood to the country's forest industry, fills in wildlife photographer Lassi Kujala on the ongoing restoration project of the forests in the Repovesi area.
Riku Rinnekangas, chairman of the nature conservation organisation Pohjois-Kymen Luonto ry, also listens attentively how a "working" economic forest can be turned into a natural forest through controlled burning and by leaving the fallen trees in place.
"The visitors, however, do not always understand the purpose of the rotting trees. They keep asking us why they have been left behind”, Tervonen explains.
“I guess the sad fact is that modern man does not recognise a natural forest”, Kujala reckons.
The three men agree that the visitors require instructions.
Nature needs to be interpreted. And the wilderness should be directly accessible, without having to go through a visitor centre.
The nature and guidance centre is one of the hot topics in the plan that is currently being formulated by a local development company.
“The Hillosensalmi area outside the National Park has been considered as a possible location for the visitor centre”, explains development chief Petri Salmi from Kouvola Innovation Ltd, a business development company owned by the City of Kouvola.
Salmi is referring to a Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla) survey, according to which visitors have asked for more services.
Repovesi attracts about 75,000 visitors each year, which makes the area - together with Espoo’s Nuuksio - one of Finland’s busiest national parks.
The planners’ aim is to try to widen further the park’s customer base, Salmi explains.
Hence steps and stairs, signposts, and better roads are needed, which Metsähallitus is providing.
Local entrepreneurs are being activated to widen their range of products and services and intensify their marketing efforts. New businesses would also be welcome.
“We need good attractions where people can part with their money.”
Rinnekangas is afraid that instead of logging, Repovesi (opened as a national park seven years ago) may face a different kind of threat now that the national parks’ impact on local economies has been placed under the microscope.
“The law defines a two-fold purpose for national parks: to protect nature and to act as a recreational area. Now it is being tested which one of the two weighs more.”
Lassi Kujala has returned to trek in Repovesi over and over again since the 1970s.
He even took part in the campaign to turn it into a national park.
He compares the development effort to a walking race: “You have to advance as quickly as you can, but you must not run.”
The men tread carefully along some slippery duckboards and then cross the suspension bridge, which is one of the best-known attractions of Repovesi.
Even on a weekday there is congestion on the bridge.
Some companies have brought their staff to Repovesi on an organised wellbeing day; families with children try to make the most of the remaining days of the schools' autumn break.
Rinnekangas says bluntly that when looking for peace and quiet he is better off going to a forest that is used for logging.
“In Repovesi one has to have a different mentality and just enjoy the beautiful scenery. It amuses and annoys me that things like 'the peace and quiet of nature' are even mentioned in its advertising slogans.”
Kujala witnessed the first alarming signs last summer when the red-throated loons (Gavia stellata) nesting in the Olhavanlampi area failed to produce any offspring.
Kujala suggests warning posts and instructions as an answer to the problem. Tervonen agrees: visitors are increasingly inexperienced and unaware when it comes to moving about in the wild.
One growing group of visitors are Russians, to whom Tervonen has had to explain the rules of camping and using the provided lean-to shelters.
Development chief Salmi is certain that the prepared plans will respect the nature values and take sustainable development into consideration.
The plans will be presented to the Kouvola City Board’s commerce and industry sub-committee at the beginning of November.
The Repovesi National Park was established in 2003. It is a 15-square-kilometre area of austere natural beauty, with lakes and forests.
There are a total of around 40 kilometres of market hiking paths of varying difficulty in the park.
Many of the paths are moderately demanding because of the gradients and elevation differences.
The national park was created when some of the forestry giant UPM’s lands were turned into the Aarnikotka Nature Preservation Area, adjacent to land owned by the state.
The logging in the area reached its peak in the 1980s when the majority of the trees were felled.
At the turn of the 1990s, the felling came to a halt as a result of a heated battle between the conservationists and the felling company.
Repovesi was one of the targets of a resent Metla study that focused on the significance of national parks to rural tourism.
According to Metla’s findings, even large visitor figures do not bring cash flows into the area if the region lacks basic tourism services.
In the view of researcher Leena Petäjistö, the present entrepreneurs in the Repovesi area lack the desire to increase their activities and to come up with new business forms. The supply does not meet the demand.
“The visitors wished, among other things, for canoe rental possibilities and more eateries in the surrounding areas, not in the park itself. They also had difficulties locating the actual nature services.”
The study also included the Linnansaari and Seitseminen National Parks and their surrounding communities.
In Linnansaari an average visitor spent EUR 108, in Repovesi just EUR 22.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 1.11.2010
Repovesi National Park (Wikipedia)
Outdoors.fi – Repovesi National Park
Images of Repovesi National Park
LEENA HÄRKÖNEN / Helsingin Sanomat