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A view in Koli National Park in Lieksa, North Karelia, in June 2020. (Markku Ulander – Lehtikuva)

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APPRECIATION of nature reached new heights during the coronavirus-disrupted spring and summer in Finland, writes Helsingin Sanomat.

Metsähallitus, a state-owned producer of environmental services for private citizens and corporations, reported yesterday that nearby recreational areas registered an unprecedented influx of visitors in the spring. National parks, similarly, welcomed roughly 2.4 million visitors by the end of July, signalling an increase of 400,000 from the corresponding period in 2019.

Finns continued to explore the natural wonders of their home country during the summer, providing some much-needed relief also to the pandemic-ravaged tourism industry in Finnish Lapland.

A considerable share of the new visitors are likely to return, predicted Metsähallitus.

“There is demand for the services of national parks. The coronavirus age has brought us new customers, a large share of whom are surely here to stay. We are confident that the visitor numbers achieved this year can be recreated, if not improved, in the coming years once the pandemic dies down and international customers return to national parks,” stated Timo Tanninen, the head of Parks & Wildlife Finland.

A unit of Metsähallitus, Parks & Wildlife Finland is responsible for managing state-owned lands and waters all over the country.

Its optimism about visitor numbers stems partly from the fact that it received 7.5 million euros in additional funding this year, as well as a 19.2-million-euro cash injection for future-oriented investments. The funding boost, it said, came at an opportune time as the improvements made to routes and resting areas made the parks better also for first-time visitors.

While the injection for future investments allowed it to clear some of the maintenance backlog in services, the influx of visitors has also revealed new development and reform needs.

One-off investments are simply not enough to maintain the service structures, underlined Tanninen.

“Long-term commitment is required. This is necessary also to safeguard natural values. Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s (SDP) government has granted an increase in our basic funding. It is pivotal that the increase is permanent so that we can respond to demand from Finns and the tourism industry and foster the natural values of the sites,” he said.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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