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The Early stages of summer tourism

The early stages of summer tourism

Kuusamo, located on a watershed divide, has historically been a well-known waypoint on the trade route between the White Sea and the Gulf of Bothnia. In the early stages of tourism, over a hundred years ago, people worried about the preservation of the Oulanka nature due to extensive felling of timber. Today, Kuusamo is surrounded by the national parks of Hossa, Syöte, Riisitunturi, Oulanka, and Salla, and Paanajärvi on the Russian side.

Due to its natural diversity, Kuusamo is one of the most beautiful, varied, and dearly loved regions in Finland. Kuusamo has undertaken the responsibility to develop tourism in a way that is sustainable for nature.

  • In his 1770 book Kuvausyritys Kemin Lapin Kuusamon alueesta (An attempt to describe the Kuusamo area of Kemi Lappmark), Elias Lagus wrote about natural meadow economy, weather phenomena, and beavers. Naturalists B. Nyberg and F. Silén got acquainted with the nature of Oulanka in the 1860s, and Edward Vainio did the basic work in the research of the Kuusamo nature in the 1870s.

    In August 1867, the Norwegian researchers of language and culture J. A. Friis and L. Kr. Daa arrived in Kuusamo. In his book Kesä Finnmarkissa, Venäjän Lapissa ja Pohjois-Karjalassa (Summer in Finnmark, Russian Lapland, and North Karelia) Friis praised the location of Kuusamo on the ridge between two lakes, and the beautiful church in the village. He wrote that he had received good service at his place of accommodation, and mentioned that the people of Kuusamo living in spacious houses were hospitable and charged reasonable service fees.

    A.V. Ervasti, a newspaperman from Oulu, wrote in his travelogue Suomalaiset Jäämeren rannalla – Matkamuistelmia 1884 (Finns on the shores of the Arctic Ocean – Travel memories 1884) that the awkward and monotonous two-day trip from Oulu to Kuusamo could not be considered the most agreeable of journeys. The section between Kuusamo and the Arctic Ocean had been more interesting with the ”ongoing migration” of the people of Kuusamo going fishing to the Murman coast.

    In a travel book Veneellä poikki Suomenniemen (Across the Finnish peninsula by boat) published in 1895, Arvo Korhonen comments on the attitude of the Kuusamo people towards scientists. “Strange names are given to scientists moving in the area, depending on what they study. You hear people talking about “stone gents,” “poem gents,” “grass gents,” or “räkkä gents,” etc.; we were particularly amused by the last name, which means insect collectors, because the infestation of mosquitoes and black flies is called ‘räkkä’ in Kuusamo.”

  • The interest of researchers in the nature of the Oulanka area increased at the turn of the 20th century. The Kitkanniemi area and the Juuma gorges also attracted interest. Attention was paid to the natural features of the area, such as flora and geology.

    In the late 1800s, there was growing concern about the preservation of the unique Oulanka nature. Swedish and Russian forest companies were also interested in the woods of the area. They traded in timber with the state and carried out extensive logging along River Oulankajoki. As early as 1897, geographer J. E. Rosberg proposed the creation of a national park in Kuusamo.

    An expedition funded by the industrialist Karl Fazer began a determined study of the Oulanka nature in 1917. With Fazer’s funding, the research of botanist Vilho A. Pesola and zoologist Einari Merikallio produced detailed proposals on the protection needs for the valleys of rivers Kitka, Oulanka and Kutsa. River Kutsa, located in Lake Kuolajärvi, Salla, now belongs to Russia.

  • Based on a law passed on 21 December 1956, a decision was made to establish two new nature parks and seven national parks in Finland. One of these was Oulanka National Park, which was opened in 1957. In the first year, a small allocation was used for restoring campsites and signs, and for the purchase of equipment. In 1958, the management of the park was transferred to Metsähallitus.

    In the beginning of 1966, the prominence of Oulanka National Park grew due to the opening of the Oulu University Research Station at Oulanka.

    In the Great Partition started in 1951, the valuable Kitkanniemi area remained in the ownership of jointly owned forests formed by the owners of the shareholding estates. This was a poor decision for nature conservation. However, Kitkanniemi was attached to the national park in 1989 through an exchange of land between the state and the partnership of the jointly owned forest. Previously, a large aapa mire area in Salla had already been attached to the park.

    Along with these attachments, Oulanka National Park gained valuable swamp and forest areas. The national park now also included the rugged canyon of River Kitkajoki, all the way from its lower part to the fork of River Oulankajoki, and the gorges of Juuma. The most significant sights of River Kitkajoki area, Myllykoski rapid, Aallokkokoski rapid, Jyrävä waterfall, and the Pieni Karhunkierros hiking trail, are now located within the national park.

    The 1895 book Veneellä poikki Suomenniemen – Seikkailuja Pohjanmaan vesillä ja saloilla (Across the Finnish peninsula by boat – Adventures on the waters and in the backwoods of Northern Ostrobothia) includes a tale about shooting rapids in Kuusamo. The arrival at Jyrävä waterfall had been a great experience: “The roar from the bottom of a rock cavity sounded like a distant thunder. You immediately realized that what was ahead was no ordinary rapid. The earth also seemed to shake underfoot, even though the foundation should have been solid, being a hard and rocky mountain. After struggling down a steep bank through a dense forest, we came to a waterfall that will not be soon forgotten.

    The appearance of the waterfall is magnificently beautiful: the extraordinarily high and steep rock walls on both sides of it, a lush coniferous forest on top of the cliffs. Watching the water in Jyrävä fall about 10 metres over a total distance of 25 metres forming two rapids, you can guess how fast it goes, with what force it rushes against the rocky walls and the river bottom.”

  • Author, journalist and historian Santeri Ingman (later Ivalo) wrote a short story about his summer trip to Kuusamo. Tuokiokuvia Kuusamon matkalta (Snapshots from a trip to Kuusamo) was published for the Christmas market in 1892. A boat trip on the misty Lake Paanajärvi, with lights playing on the slopes of the surrounding hills, was what had made the strongest impression on Ingman. He noted that the residents of Paanajärvi village were used to visiting tourists, and they were even overzealous in their praise of the local sights such as Mäntykoski waterfall, Ruskeakallio cliff, and Vaskivuori (copper) mountain. The locals truly understood the uniqueness of the surrounding nature.

  • Ever since the late the 19th century, photographers have made a significant contribution to the fame of the Kuusamo nature in Finland and around the world. In 1892, photographer K. E. Ståhlberg hired I. K. Inha to photograph Finnish landscapes. Inha’s first journey to northern Finland was also directed to Salla and Kuusamo. Inha’s photographs from River Oulankajoki, Lake Paanajärvi, Nuorunen fell and Kivakkakoski rapid, Russia, are the classical works of Finnish landscape photography. The 1938 photography book by Esko and Paavo Suomalainen called Suomen erämaiden kauneus, Kuvia Kuusamosta ja Sallasta (The beauty of Finnish backwoods, Photographs from Kuusamo and Salla), is also a fine presentation of the beautiful wilderness of Salla and Kuusamo. The most significant and well-known photographer of the Kuusamo nature is Hannu Hautala, whose extensive life’s work as a photographer of the northern taiga forest and its species reaches from the 1960s to the 2020s. He has published more than 60 photo books.

    Esko and Paavo Suomalainen’s photography book Suomen erämaiden kauneus, Kuvia Kuusamosta ja Sallasta (The Beauty of Finnish Backwoods, Photographs from Kuusamo and Salla), 1938, preface is a guide for hikers:

    ”You hiker, who go to the backwoods of our beautiful Finland, remember that the landscape you see contains a severe obligation. Beware of leaving traces of “culture” to the integrity of nature. Put out your campfire carefully. Remember that you must not rob the eagle’s nest or destroy rare plants, so that others can enjoy them after your visit. Remember that you are walking in a unique natural sanctuary, whose millennia-long peace you, the wanderer of the moment, have no right to disturb.”

  • The completion of the road from Kuusamo via Paljakka in Vuotunki to Paanajärvi in 1925 stimulated tourism in the area. In 1928, Oulun Talouskauppa Co-op started operating bus transport on the route Oulu-Kuusamo-Paanajärvi. At first, the road ended at the Kauppila house on River Oulankajoki, where an inn was established.

    Later in the 1930s, the road was continued to Sovakylä village, and from there via Liikasenvaara to Käylä and from there to Kuusamo parish village. This formed a circle route that was called “karhunkierros” (bear trail). Kuusamon Osuuskauppa Co-op started carrying people and freight regularly on this route using a combined bus and lorry called “sekajuna” (mixed train).

  • The traditional traveller’s houses in Paanajärvi were Rajala, located closer to the western end of the lake, and Mäntyniemi, located in the east. Tourists were also accommodated in the Finnish Red Cross Hospital, founded in 1927, and in an inn, opened in 1937, with five bedrooms and a dining room. Other services were provided by four shops, a Lotta kiosk, and Ivar Yltiö’s motor boat transport by an iron boat which seated about 20 people.

    The Kuusamo branch of the Finnish Tourist Association was established in 1936 to continue the work of the Finnish Border Region Association. Its central hub was the Kuusamo Folk High School, from where tourists were directed to destinations such as Käylä, Kiutaköngäs, Nuorunen and Paanajärvi. The tourist association maintained wilderness huts at Kiutaköngäs, Taivalköngäs and Savinalampi, and it also arranged three boats to River Oulankajoki for the use of hikers.

    The most advertised route was Upper Oulanka, which started from Ollila and led via Ristikallio and Savinalampi to Kiutaköngäs. Käylän Iikka took care of the transport of tourists, and provided accommodation and rapid shooting in Käylänkoski rapid. The tourist association advertised farms that provided accommodation for tourists. These were Iikka Mustonen’s house in Käylä, Heikki and Janne Ylijuuma’s house in Juuma, the Kauppila and Mäntyniemi houses in Paanajärvi, the Tiermas house by the Liikasenvaarantie road, the Koutaniemi house in Tavajärvi, and the Jäkäläniemi house in Vasaraperä.

    In Kuusamo parish village, accommodation for tourists was provided by Korhonen Inn and, in summer, by the Kuusamo Folk High School, where the Majala building was completed in 1930. Majala had bedrooms and a dining room, so tourists could be offered full board and, if necessary, guidance to hiking destinations. In summer 1938, 2,000 tourists stayed at the Folk High School.

  • After the wars, the restoring of the Upper Oulanka route was began under the leadership of a group called Pellistit. This local group of hiking enthusiasts had been named after one of the group members, librarian Pellervo Koivunen. He was an eccentric person whose hobby was bird-watching, especially in the Tolpanniemi area in Kuusamo parish village.

    On 16 February 1954, the birth of the Karhunkierros Trail was announced in the town tourism board, which had been established after the wars. The name Karhunkierros was not yet used at the time; the new route was called a walking trail. Inspired by the board, the first trip was made on Ascension Day 1954 to mark the hiking trail from Ollila on Salla Road towards Ristikallio and from there on to Kiutaköngäs. The summer of 1954 was the busiest time for the marking, when a group of about twenty people took part in the work. The marking of the trail continued from Kiutaköngäs to Jyrävä, and lastly from Jyrävä to Ruka in 1956.

    The first hiking map of Karhunkierros was drawn by Pehr Ove Planting in 1958. Pekka Alajuuma, who was in tourism business in Juuma, marked the Pieni Karhunkierros Trail. Alajuuma, who lived near River Kitkajoki, took tourists to shoot the Niskakoski rapid in his wooden boat. Voluntary workers restored the old huts at Ristikallio, Taivalköngäs, Kiutaköngäs, and Jyrävä. The Taivalköngäs suspension bridges were built in summer of 1956 with the help of donations and volunteers.

    Veikko Tarmio’s guidebook Kesäretkien Kuusamo (Summer Trips in Kuusamo) was published in 1951. In addition to Tarmio’s text, the book contains photographs taken by Tarmio and illustrations by Armas Lähteenkorva. The book introduces familiar natural destinations, and also fishing grounds in the large lakes of eastern Kuusamo. There are stories about local guides, such as Iikka Mustonen and Aatu Kustaa Kilpivaara in the Käylä area, and shopkeeper Kalle Konttinen in Lämsänkylä.

  • As late as in the 1960s, Iivaara hill and Lake Julma-Ölkky attracted tourists, in addition to Oulanka and Ruka. Together with campsite entrepreneurs, Kuusamo town started to improve tourism services in the Petäjälampi area, located on the outskirts of the town centre.

    The town hired a tourism agent, whose job was later combined with that of the managing director of Kuusamon Lomat OY (Kuusamo Holidays Ltd). Founded by the town and individual entrepreneurs in 1967, the company operated as a travel agency. The airport was completed in 1972 and regular airline service began, first to Oulu and later to Helsinki.

    The town tourist information office started as an information point in the market square in summer. Kuusamo was especially popular with West German tourists in the 1960s and 1970s, as memories from World War II brought German war veterans to northern Finland with their families. Karhuntassu tourist information centre, designed by architect Seppo Koutaniemi, was built in 1986.

    Since the late 1960s, representatives of Kuusamo town and local entrepreneurs took part in the national travel fair. The fishing equipment manufacturer Kuusamon Uistin was an important part of the visibility and brand of Kuusamo in the early decades of the fair. Koillismaan Osuuskauppa Co-op opened Hotel Kuusamo in the town centre in 1973, and the motel Kitka Pirtti was built by Ville Kurtti and his brothers. Pekka Alajuuma’s family operated a tourist company Retkietappi in the summer at the Pieni Karhunkierros Trail in Juuma, offering café and accommodation services. Ollilan Lomamajat in Sossonniemi is also a time-honoured family company in the Kuusamo tourism sector.

  • Akseli Gallen-Kallela, one of the master painters in Finland, left for Kuusamo in early July 1892 with his wife Mary and their 18-month-old daughter Marjatta.

    At the time realism was giving way to symbolism in visual arts, and the artist wanted to look for a new direction for himself in the tranquillity of the wilderness. On the Paanajärvi journey, he painted Shepherd Boy from Paanajärvi, which is a lyrical description of the summer night, and created two works representing the new style, Mäntykoski Waterfall and Great Black Woodpecker.

    The Gallen-Kallela family stayed in the Rajala house in Paanajärvi village, from where Akseli went to paint at the nearby Mäntykoski. The artist worked at Paanajärvi until the autumn.

Riina Puurunen, Writer
Kari Kantola, MA 

Jonna Lohi, MA, Pivot Translations