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Arctic parks among most visited in Finland

YLE NewsEye on the Arctic

Nuuksio, Pallas-Yllästunturi and Urho Kekkonen National Parks top the list of parks attracting growing numbers of visitors in Finland, says the state organization charged with stewarding the nation’s forests, Metsähallitus.

Finland has 38 national parks, protected reserves of nature owned by the Finnish state, administered by Metsähallitus and open to the public to admire. The latest national park added to the list is Konnevesi, approved for national park status on June 17 by the Finnish Parliament and confirmed on Aug. 8 by the president.

Finland's first national parks were established in 1938, but these have since been merged with others and taken new names. The oldest parks still in their original form date back to 1956: the Lemmenjoki National Park in northern Finland, the Oulanka National Park in Lapland and the Rokua National Park in Northern Ostrobothnia and Kainuu.

National parks are founded in Finland with the objective of safeguarding biodiversity and providing people with an opportunity to relax and enjoy themselves in nature.

Recent statistics from Metsähallitus show that some national parks have gained popularity faster than others. The top parks with rising numbers of guests include Nuuksio National Park in southern Finland and Pallas-Yllästunturi and Urho Kekkonen National Parks in Lapland. The number of visitors to these parks has increased by over 100,000 in the last eight years, in Pallas-Yllästunturi by almost 200,000.

Visitor growth in the other national parks of Finland remains under 35,000.

Top parks have several advantages

Anneli Leivo, nature recreation services manager at Metsähallitus, is not surprised by the results. The Pallas–Yllästunturi and Urho Kekkonen parks are located in Lapland tourist centers, which attract visitors year-round, while Nuuksio is located conveniently close to the capital city region and its large population.

“The urban environment needs green spaces and city dwellers seek out nature reserves to reinvigorate themselves. They show a genuine interest,” says Leivo.

Leivo adds that each of the parks enjoying the most visitors also have several large commercial enterprises nearby offering expanded accommodations, activities and food services.

“In this respect, these parks are more commercialized,” she says.

Overall visitor numbers are up

According to the Metsähallitus statistics, the national parks with the biggest drop in guests are the Helvetinjärvi National Park in the Pirkanmaa region, the Lauhanvuori National Park in Southern Ostrobothnia and the Bothnia Sea National Park off the western coast.

At Helvetinjärvi and Lauhavuori, numbers have fallen by over 10,000 since 2005, while the Bothnian Sea has recorded 25,800 fewer guests to the area than just three years ago.

Leivo is quick to point out that the statistics can give the wrong impression.

“We have fine-tuned our measuring methods over the years and these kinds of trends aren’t normally indicative of reality. Overall visitors numbers at national parks are up,” she says.

In the last eight years, for example, Metsähallitus statistics show the number of visitors to Finland’s 38 national parks has risen from 1,410,000 to 2,259,800.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch News as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.