At the end of the 1800s most of the land in the Ilomantsi area was owned by the King of Sweden. In 1861 six ranger districts were established to guard the forest in the Ylä-Koitajoki area. Forest rangers had to live within their district and so forest ranger estates were built at Pirhonvaara, Kotavaara, Kiukoinen, Lahnavaara, Tapionaho and Niemijärvi.
Most of the buildings within the border zone, such as Kotavaara forest ranger estate, were destroyed during Finland's wars but some survived. Pirhonvaara forest ranger estate still stands in Koivusuo Strict Nature Reserve. Many forest rangers or their families bought the estates for themselves during the interim peace (1940-41). This was the case with Tapionaho forest ranger estate.
Forest Work and Logging
Utilising the Koitajoki area's forests began early on. First trees were felled for individual home use. Slash-and-burn agriculture thrived in the area up to the middle of the 1800s. There are very few forests in the Koitajoki area with no signs of fires as the crown-owned forests were actively used for slash-and-burn agriculture and were ravaged by forest fires. During the late 1800s only small areas were burnt for slash-and-burn purposes near settlements.
The first commercial forestry took place in Koitajoki in the 1850s. Logging was limited to selected trees which had grown past a certain height. There are tree stumps left over from this logging near the forest ranger estates. Human activity is also visible in the nature reserve in the form of commercial forests and ditched mires.
Inhabitants of the crown-owned forests were quite poor so logging work provided an ideal opportunity, along with hunting, for young men to supplement their income. Logging and log floating however became full time profession instead of part time work in the late 1800s. The inhabitants of crown tenant farms and forest ranger estates strived during winter at logging sites and transporting timber and worked as log floaters during the summer. They were important labourers for the forest industry, but loggers were far from wealthy. An increase in forest work in the late 1800s was due to wood pulp becoming more popular as a raw material for paper and chemical pulp. This was added to by the fact that chemical pulp factories did not require thick timber, but accepted smaller younger wood as well.
Occasionally wars would out a halt to forest work completely, but after they were over, and especially in the 1950s, intense logging took place around Polvikoski. Forest roads were built in the area during the 1950s and 60s.
Koitajoki as a Border Region
The area's history was strongly marked by the proximity of the eastern border. The Treaty of Stolbovo in 1617 named Ilomantsi a part of Sweden and the Ilomantsi parish became the eastern border. Today Polvikoskentie Road travels through the Koitajoki Area and leads to the eastern most point of the European Union at Lake Virmajärvi.
From the loggers cabin at Polvikoski it is about 8 km to this eastern-most point of the EU. The border mark on the small island in Lake Virmajärvi is one of this border's oldest border markings, because the border heading north of Lake Virmajärvi is the same border that was settled upon in the 1621 border treaty.
Koitajoki has from olden times onward been an important travel and trade route between Finland and Russian Karelia. Through the centuries, trade and war trips have been carried out from one side of the border to the other. In 1617 Ilomantsi became an Orthodox region in an otherwise Lutheran state. The border region was active with traffic: traders and those fleeing from military recruiting came to Sweden from Russia, while Orthodox people, criminals, tax evaders and army deserters moved from Sweden to Russia.
Remnants of the War
Today Ilomantsi is the only place within Finland's borders where visitors can see battle sites from the Continuation War. Battles were fought within the Koitajoki Nature Reserve for example at Polvikoski. On the north side of Polvikoskentie Road on the east bank of the River Koitajoki there are still faint signs of trenches. Remember that the war historic sights are protected by law and viewing them can be dangerous as some destinations are so run down.
During the wars timber was also chopped for example in forests at Koivusuo for coal burning. Slash-and-burn areas where wood was gathered for coal burning were completely cleared of deciduous trees. There was a coal burner's cabin at Kokkokangas in Koivusuo, which was demolished in 1941.
- Kokkonen Jukka: Villiä itää, kesytöntä länttä - Ylä-Koitajoen alueen ja Ilomantsin historiaa, A history of Ylä-Koitajoki and Ilomantsi. Metsähallitus Natural Heritage Services publications. Series A nro 152. 2005, pages 94. Language: Finnish.