History of the Finnish National Parks

Finland's First National Parks Was the Result of Long Deliberation

Finland's first national parks were established in 1938 following a 60 year long public debate on the issue and after all the twists in the legal system were handled. They became managed by the Finnish Forest Research Insitute (Metla). The thing that sparked public discussion about national parks is thought to be when A.E. Nordenskiöld, a well-known Finnish born scientist and explorer, suggested that protected areas be established on state-owned lands.

Black and white photo of Pallastunturi fell.

When Finland's first protected areas were set up the same things were taken into consideration that are still believed to be important today. Nature, in its many aspects, was seen as a national heritage and a resource for the mind, but also as the raw material for economic growth and scientific development. At the beginning of the 20th Century nature conservationists held onto strong cultural and patriotic values. Conservation had been viewed in a similar way in the United States as well when the world's first national park Yellowstone was established there in 1872.

After the Second World War there were only two national parks, Pallas-Ounastunturi and Pyhätunturi, and two strict nature reserves, Malla and Pisavaara, left as the rest were on land no longer belonging to Finland.

In 1956 National Parks Were Established on Metsähallitus Owned Lands and Were managed by Metsähallitus

Although Finland had an arduous task of rebuilding its infrastructure and paying war debts after the Second World War, establishing new protected areas was also considered a task of national importance. The second set of national parks was established in 1956: Liesjärvi, Linnansaari, Pyhä-Häkki, Petkeljärvi, Rokua, Oulanka, and Lemmenjoki National Parks.

The national parks established in 1956 were located on Metsähallitus owned lands and managed by Metsähallitus. There were no laws at this time enforcing how protected areas were to be cared for. In the 1950s national parks were very far from hiking destinations used by the majority of the public. Matti Helminen, an active veteran of nature conservation and the old head of Natural Heritage Services at Metsähallitus, has said that "Anyone can visit national parks as long as they are willing the follow their rules and regulations, if they were able to find said rules and regulations or even a national park". Developing national parks into popular outdoor recreation destinations was a major task which only truly got underway at the beginning of the 1970s.

In 1982 a Total of Eleven National Parks Were Established

In Finland, the following national parks were founded in a third wave in 1982: Helvetinjärvi, Hiidenportti, Isojärvi, Gulf of Finland, Kauhaneva - Pohjankangas, Lauhanvuori, Patvinsuo, Riisitunturi, Salamajärvi, Seitseminen and Tiilikkajärvi National Parks.

Persistent Nature Conservation Work

At the beginning of the 1970s, the Finnish national park network was considered insufficient from a regional perspective as well as in terms of their natural values. Consequently, a representative and well-managed national park network became an objective.

Black and white photo of two women in a forest.

The national park committee began operating in 1974 and in 1976, a bold proposal on the establishment of 42 new national parks was created.  However, an abridged version of the proposal was submitted to the Finnish Government containing only those areas in need of protection on state-owned lands. This measured approach probably facilitated the approval by the Finnish Government and Parliament.

National Parks Promote Wellbeing

Formerly, the foundation of strict nature reserves was preferred but latterly the establishment of national parks became more important. It was believed that national parks better served recreational needs, whereas strict nature reserves had been established for scientific purposes.

Black and white photo of a cooking shelter in the forest.

The internationally approved definition of the parks as areas for the protection of pristine nature as well as sightseeing and hiking destinations was taken as the starting point for the development of the national parks. 

You can retreat to the peace of these national parks independently at any time and commemorate the most significant achievements of nature conservation by respecting these essential elements: nature and peace and quiet.

The Model for Our National Parks Was Taken from the United States

When the national park cluster was established in 1982, national parks were, for the first time, required to create a management plan. The concept of a management plan was "imported" from the US National Park Service. In the management plan, nature conservation and recreational objectives are harmonised. 

Finnish national parks are also very much like their American models in other respects: rugged and pristine. Furthermore, the national park concept clearly incorporates the concept of national landscape

Source: Perttula, Minttu 2006: Suomen kansallispuistojärjestelmän kehittyminen 1960–1990-luvuilla ja U.S. National Park Servicen vaikutukset sen hoitokäytäntöihin (julkaisut.metsa.fi, in Finnish, pdf-file 1754 kb).