Oulanka National Park Turned 50
Oulanka National Park, along with six others, was established in 1956. The first section of the Karhunkierros Hiking Trail, leading to the sights of Oulanka from the Sallantie Road starting point to the Taivalköngäs Rapids, had been marked a year earlier. After all these eventful years, Oulanka stands today as an internationally recognised protection area, whose appeal is based on a diverse and unique mixture of southern, northern and eastern natural features. Read more about Oulanka's history.
A National Park is Established
The area that is now Oulanka National Park has been famous already since the late 19th century for its breathtaking scenery, wild rapids and exceptional plants. Kuusamo was suggested as a possible location for a National Park already in 1897. Scientists Vilho Pesola and Einari Merikallio drew up maps of the area in the beginning of the 20th century, with the financing of the chocolate and confection manufacturer Karl Fazer. Many Finnish artists also visited the area.
The process of establishing the National Park was, at first, slowed down by a general parcelling out land and then by the Second World War. It was further hindered by the conflict about the future of the Kuusamo rapids, when there were plans to harness the Rivers Oulankajoki and Kitkajoki for the production of electricity in the 1950's. Finally people realised that promoting nature conservation helped tourism and the rapids remained unharnessed. The late Reino Rinne, a journalist and author from Kuusamo was a spokesperson for nature conservation at the deciding moment.
The National Park was established in 1956 and enlarged in 1982 and 1989.
Open Wilderness Huts
Many of the buildings that function today as open wilderness huts were originally built for reindeer herder cabins. Some huts that started out with this purpose are Puikkokämppä wilderness hut and Ristikallio wilderness hut. The two-storey wilderness hut at Taivalköngäs was originally built for loggers to use in the early 20th century. It was moved to it's present location a couple decades later to serve travellers.
The open wilderness hut at Lake Kerojärvi was originally built to serve as a base for the construction of a new settlement area in the 1950's. At around the same time the Kuusamo board of tourism had Jussinkämppä wilderness hut built. It is now owned by Metsähallitus.
Other than the wilderness huts, signs of reindeer husbandry in the park are the remains of former slash-and-burn clearings and trees with horse tail lichen (Alectoria) and beard lichen (Usnea barbata). During harsh snowy winters reindeers had little food and herders cut down large trees with lichen for reindeers to chew on. Later the woodland was burnt over. These former slash-and-burn fields were then used as pastures for reindeers.
There are numerous spring and autumn water meadows in Oulanka National Park. In earlier times the residents of Paanajärvi and Virranniemi Villages have benefited from the mineral rich meadows on the shores of the River Oulankajoki. People travelled tens of kilometres to these meadows by foot and spent weeks away from home making hay. The harvested hay was stored in a barn till winter, when they were transported to farms to feed livestock. Some farmers took the hay home at once with their horses.
These days some of the meadows are managed to preserve meadow habitats.
The Winter War and Continuation War did not effect the Oulanka region too drastically, because not large battles were fought there. The locals, however, lived in constant fear of Soviet Partisan attacks. There were several of these attacks and the memorial plaque in Hautajärvi Village is a reminder of one of them. By the trail that leads to Kiutaköngäs there is a part of a war time fortification, which has been restored. Traffic on the River Oulanka has been observed from the shooting hole in this trench.