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From Helsinki to the Russian Border

August 24, 2018
Harold Goodwin
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by Harold Goodwin - Responsible Tourism Partnership

Last week I was in Finland, Helsinki, Jyväskylä and Base Camp near the Russian border, from the city to wilderness in four days. In Helsinki, we met with the city to discuss the challenge of sustainability. They have wisely separated the managing tourism function from marketing. More and more destinations are realising that mixing marketing and management in a DMO is fraught with difficulty. All tourism is managed by the local authority or national park; roads, litter, toilets, congestion, all have to be managed, and the DMOs are not good at that.

Then on to JAMK at Jyväskylä where I contribute to an international summer school programme on Responsible Tourism with students for India, Korea, Egypt and Finland. The focus of the student's work is on tourism development on and around Lake Päijänne which stretches from Lahti in the south over 100 km to  Jyväskylä in the north, a city which has grown from 8,000 inhabitants in 1940 to more than 130,000.  There is also time to meet with local tourism entrepreneurs and discuss how the city can best develop tourism in its rural hinterland.

Harmooni, part of the Arts & Crafts Restaurants Oy chain, brings local fish and game to the table with a menu that changes each month to include the best fresh stock from local vendors. Supper with the owner to talk about how they might extend their tourism offer by linking with the rural communities and food producers.

After class on Thursday Keijo Salenius of Basecamp Oulanka drove me north close to the Russian border and Oulanka National Park which has over 400 threatened species of flora and fauna. Live webcam Siberian taiga,  boreal or snow forest, reaches the European Union here in northern Finland. Basecamp Oulanka, on a lakeside opposite Juuma, provides a luxurious camp, a wilderness hotel,  base for access into Oulanka for walking, trekking, white water rafting, canoeing, Nordic walking, skiing, fatbikes, snowshoeing and climbing. I whitewater rafted on the River Kitka to the Russian border where Basecamp has a satellite smoke sauna camp within sight of Russia.

Outdoor activities are a core part of the offer, but Basecamp was created as an alternative to the highly mechanised 'urban' ski centre at Kuusamo with its snowmobiles and skiing infrastructure. Basecamp's rive groups stop off to fell a tree, as volunteers they contribute to restoring a meadow habitat beside the river.

I was not attracted by the rafting - I was motivated by the desire to see bears in the wild. I saw 5 different bears at the same time from a comfortable hide - next time I would stay the night. Wolves, Elk, Reindeer (come of them white),  Wolverine, Otters and Bears can all be seen with expert guides in the different seasons. This is an accessible wilderness. The corridor and protected area are most important to birds like the golden eagle, black grouse, capercaillies and owls. There is a bird list below.

Siberian flora and fauna come from the east along the River Oulanka, which runs to the White Sea via Lake Paanajärvi and Lake Pääjärvi through Russian forests. The microclimate is very strong with dry, warm summers and dry, cold winters. Paanajärvi National Park is very wild with a mere 5000 visitors annually, who mostly stay on the eastern side. The border is isolated on the Russian side with a 5km unauthorised approach zone.

Keijo Salenius

Source: Google maps 

In 2009 Basecamp Oulanka was included in the 4 best places in the world to see the Northern Lights Aurora Borealis: Being so close to Russian wilderness with a microclimate so cold and dry, there are very seldom clouds and no light pollution.


Basecamp Oulanka is helping create The Oulanka Paanajarvi Corridor, between the Oulanka and Kuusinki rivers, a new private protected area of 1000 hectares (about 2 x 4 km) between Oulanka National Park (30 000 hectares) and Paanajärvi National Park (104 000 hectares with 100 000 hectare buffer zone). Echoing the Peace Parks concept in Southern Africa the two parks form an internationally unique wilderness area and an important destination for nature-based tourism. The close cooperation of both protected areas also helps foster better understanding between Finns and Russians on both sides of the border, as a role model for peaceful cooperation, and brings economies of scale financially and environmentally, working together for the common purpose of biodiversity conservation and sustainability while managing tourism responsibly under a joint management plan.

The landowner is Kuusamo Forests Common, a local cooperative with 4400 owner members. The cooperative area is over 94,000 hectares of land for the purpose of local income generation through forestry. The Wild Oulanka Foundation has signed a lease agreement with Kuusamo Forests Common for the coming 25 years for the corridor area. The foundation's annual budgeted of €160,000  covers the staff, making the nature trails, the financial loss to the cooperative and most of the hunting rights. Access to the border zone 453 hectares within the corridor area will be limited with voluntary agreements, under controls and patrols by the Finnish Border Guard. Clear signage, gates and barriers will be put in place, and visitors limited to 1000 annually.

In the words of The Long Run of which Base Camp Oulanka has been a member since 2015: "Basecamp Oulanka is a “positive footprint destination”, founded for conservation and wildlife experience purposes. The heating system used throughout the complex relies totally on nature using special wood pellets for fuel. Even the hot tub is run from an ingenious system that uses the excess heat generated from the sauna. When it comes to day to day life at Basecamp a very important feature is that manpower is always used over motors to minimise the carbon emissions. Basecamp also uses electric outboard engines for rafting boats resulting in zero fuel consumption. "

Basecamp Oulanka is a member of The Long Run Foundation. In 2011, Basecamp Oulanka was awarded VESTAS, the European sustainable tourism awards, as an “Outstanding example of sustainable and responsible tourism.” In 2014 they were awarded the GreenLeaders GOLD status by Trip Advisor.



In the Oulanka Paanajarvi Corridor, the EU Habitats Directive protects 22 habitat types and the Nature Directive protects 53 species. Species on the EU Directive include (plus several secret species) include:

  • Ahma* - Gulo gulo
  • Ilves - Lynx lynx
  • Karhu - Ursus arctos
  • Saukko - Lutra lutra
  • Susi - Canis lupus
  • Kivisimppu - Cottus cobio
  • Havuhuppukuoriainen - Stephanopachys linearis
  • Jättisukeltaja - Dytiscus latissimus
  • Kalkkisiemenkotilo - Vertigo genesii
  • Lahokapo - Boros schneideri
  • Mäntyhuppukuoriainen - Stephanopachys subtriatus
  • Idänkynsimö - Draba cinerea
  • Isotorasammal - Cynodontium suecicum
  • Lapinleinikki - Ranunculus lapponicus
  • Lettorikko - Saxifraga hirculus
  • Myyränporras - Diplazium sibiricum
  • Pahtakeltto - Crepis tectorum
  • Pohjankellosammal - Encalypta mutica
  • Tunturiarho - Arenaria ciliata ssp. pseudofrigida
  • Kirjojokikorento - Ophiogompus cecilia
  • Isonuijasammal - Meesia longiseta
  • Korpikolva - Pytho kolwensis
  • Rusoharmoyökkönen - Xestia brunneopicta

Birds on the Directive include (plus several secret species):

  • Ampuhaukka - Falco columbarius
  • Helmipöllö - Aegolius funereus
  • Hiiripöllö - Surnia ulula
  • Huuhkaja - Bubo bubo
  • Kuikka - Gavia arctica
  • Kurki - Grus grus
  • Lapinpöllö - Strix nebulosa
  • Lapintiira - Sterna paradisaea
  • Laulujoutsen - Cygnus cygnus
  • Liro - Tringa glareola
  • Mehiläishaukka - Pernis apivorus
  • Metso - Tetrao urogallus
  • Palokärki - Dryocopus martius
  • Pikkusieppo - Ficedula parva
  • Pohjantikka - Picoides tridactylus
  • Pyy - Bonasa bonasia
  • Sinirinta - Luscinia svecica
  • Sinisuohaukka - Circus cyaneus
  • Suokukko - Philomachus pugnax  
  • Uivelo - Mergus albellus
  • Varpuspöllö - Glaucidium passerinum
  • Vesipääsky - Phalaropus lobatus
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