We, as a family, love to go hiking in National Parks whenever possible. Just before schools started, we finally started our plan to visit all the National Parks in Finland. We visited two of them that are in our region (within 1-1.5hr drive from home). Beautiful majestic forests with trails to hike. According to Metsähallitus (state-run enterprise that manages all the National parks and other state-owned land and water), there are 40 National parks in the country and I hope to visit all of them one day. Like any other country, national parks are pride of the country and are maintained as such.
One big difference I noticed as we walked into the first National park, Seitseminen Kansallispuisto is that there is no entry fee, no camping fee, no parking fee…. no fee at all. It is FREE for everyone to come and enjoy the parks!. I marveled at the idea! Just park in the free parking lot and off you go!. What a novel concept! One that is different than what I am used to seeing in US and India. In US, we always bought an annual pass to the National parks because (a) its a good way to support them when the government doesn’t (b) gives access to all the parks with one pass and if you visit frequently, its cheaper than paying at every park/everytime.
In India, my experience was just plain baffling. Iremember a few years ago, we travelled to South India with my in-laws and visited a National park. They gave me two different prices for entry tickets – one for me, and one for my husband and in-laws. When I asked them about it, the person at the counter informed me that since I am an Indian (I look Indian of course), price is cheaper than ‘foreigners’ and then went on to say that “these foreigners can afford more money”. I told the person that these “foreigners” are my family and if those are the rules, I cannot support them. Then we walked out and didn’t go to any other National park there (and even the Science center in town was charging different prices which made me quite upset).
I know the money collected is put to good use but imagine if the government actually takes care of all those expenses and makes it free for everyone (or I guess at least the same price for everyone in India)! Imagine how many more people could go and enjoy the parks!
One of the things I missed in Finland National parks is what they have in US National parks, called “Junior Ranger” program. It is simple but an amazing program that all the National parks participate in. Every National park we visited, Manu became a junior ranger. I am not entirely sure who was more interested in it…him or me:). The program is intended as an educational tool for youngsters and encourage them to be part of the conservation efforts. A few activities to do – go on a hike, learn about local flora and fauna, watch a documentary, clean up one trail, write a poem, make a drawing etc. and you will be sworn in as a junior ranger by an actual forest ranger. Doing these activities, you can’t help but admire the ecology, wonders of nature and the amount of effort that goes into maintaining them. With all what’s happening in the country, I hope the program continues to exist and encourage more and more young people. I am sure they have different programs here especially as part of their formal education but I would still love to see such a program here that a whole family can participate.
A couple more differences we were very glad to see – (a) Dogs can go into any National parks and hiking paths as long as they are on a leash. Our dogs love long hikes especially in forests so we were happy we can take them along with us.
(b) At both the parks we have been to (and I believe all the parks have this facility), laminated maps are available to borrow (and from the stack we saw, they seem to be promptly returned). I was glad because more often than not, the paper maps we buy or get from National parks end up in recycling after the visit. I also loved the way they build a walking path if the trail happens to go through a marsh. A simple ‘road’ built with planks supported underneath usually by log.
Fun fact: Did you know Suomi is called “Land of Thousand Lakes”? According to Wikipedia, it has 187,888 lakes including 55,000 of them at least 200 meters wide. It’s a whole another topic(s) to talk about lakes….