Finland's 41st national park formally opened in Salla, Eastern Lapland, on Saturday. The transformation of the nature reserve into a national park is projected to double the number of visitors to the wilderness area near the eastern border.
The wilderness area of about 100 square kilometres is characterised by fell and mountain landscapes, gorges, old forests and wetlands. The park extends to the Russian border, where a network of protected areas continues on the other side as Paanajärvi National Park.
The state forest management agency Metsähallitus has been granted 4.5 million euros to upgrade and expand camping facilities and rest areas and make other improvements at Salla.
The area of Salla National Park has been a nature reserve since 2017, and most of it is also part of the EU's Natura 2000 network. National park status brings restrictions on hunting, but is certain to boost the number of visitors.
For instance, the number of visitors to the Hossa wilderness area has doubled since it was designated as a national park in 2017. Hossa is in Suomussalmi, 170 km to the south.
Oulanka National Park is also partly located within the large municipality of Salla. Locals will still have the right to hunt except in the busiest area, which is about one-tenth of the park.
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The growing popularity of national parks has inspired municipalities to compete for them. The Ministry of the Environment is currently considering 10 proposals.
However, the screening process is tight, and bids for national parks in Punkaharju, the Korouoma canyon in Posio and the Porkkala peninsula have been shelved.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Maria Ohisalo (Green) praised the natural beauty of the area and the people of Salla for bringing the project to completion.
"National parks are places to showcase Finnish nature. A wide range of habitats are protected as national parks are established across Finland," said Ohisalo, who returned from maternity leave last week.
Combating biodiversity loss and climate change are key goals of the government, which has doubled funding for nature conservation.
Hiking trails have also been improved in various national parks to cope with a significant increase in visitor numbers during the pandemic era.