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Outdoor treks to remain free despite 44m-euro budget shortfall

Finland’s national parks and other state-owned outdoor recreation sites will remain free of charge despite a growing budget shortfall at Parks & Wildlife Finland.

Polku männikössä ja taustalla Kuorejärvi.
Isojärvi National Park, between Jämsä and Kuhmoinen in Central Finland. Image: Petri Aaltonen / Yle

Outdoor destinations managed by the state forest agency Metsähallitus will still be free for public use regardless of budget shortfalls, the Uutissuomalainen media group reports on Friday.

Metsähallitus’s Parks & Wildlife Finland division faces a mounting debt of 44 million euros.

The agency says that one of the main reasons that no fees will be levied on park users is that outdoor trekking has a public health benefit. The Finnish Parliament’s Agriculture and Forestry Committee has also urged that access to state-owned wilderness areas remain free to all.

"Nature is a luxury" for all to enjoy

“Nature is a luxury that every citizen must have an opportunity to enjoy free of charge,” says Metsähallitus Director Pentti Hyttinen.

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nainen kukkulalla metsässä
Wilderness areas play a key role in Finland's tourist industry. Image: Ismo Pekkarinen / AOP
The popularity of Finland’s 40 national parks is on the rise, attracting a record 3.1 million visitors last year. Nearly seven million people – well over the national population of 5.5 million – visited Parks & Wildlife sites altogether. These include a variety of nature reserves and historic sites.

Funding for national parks, nature conservation areas and wilderness tracts comes from the Environment Ministry while that for other state outdoor recreation sites is paid for by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. There is also special earmarked funding from the state and the EU.

However Metsähallitus says this financing is insufficient to keep all trails, visitor centres and sites in good, safe condition. Parks & Wildlife estimates that carrying out repairs to sites used for recreation and tourism would cost some six million euros annually through 2022, followed by another three million a year after that for upkeep.

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Kuorejärven laavu Isojärven kansallispuistossa.
Campfire sites are often stocked with wood, saws and axes. Image: Petri Aaltonen / Yle

One third of trails need maintenance

The park service says that many structures are in need of renovation, including wilderness lodges, outhouses, firewood shelters, boating structures and rest sites. It calculates that 40 km of summer hiking trails are in poor shape. Another 1650 km, or more than a third of the overall route network, is in moderately poor condition.

In early July, hikers at Repovesi National Park in Kouvola got a scare when a cable on a hanging bridge failed. No-one was injured.

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Heretty-Lortikka -reittiopaste Isojärven kansallispuistossa.
Signposts like these at Isojärvi require regular maintenance. Image: Petri Aaltonen / Yle

Metsähallitus is a state enterprise that manages a third of Finland’s surface area. It also owns a forestry company that harvests and sells timber, as well as maintaining state-owned forests.

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