Stand-up paddleboarding, rock and ice climbing, skin skiing. Adventures in the wintry outdoors, dog safaris. The Natural Pearls of Kuusamo project gives access to private forests as alternatives to more popular nature trails.
The Natural Pearls of Kuusamo project makes private commercial forests accessible to professional nature tourism. Hiking in private forests is naturally allowed for everyone thanks to everyman’s rights, but these rights do not include permission to use them in commercial tourism operations.
In order to take tourists to private forests, tourism operators need an agreement with the landowner. In broad-based collaboration, the Natural Pearls of Kuusamo project created a template agreement including the jointly-approved principles for determining how the forest can be used and what the remuneration should be. The agreements will not restrict forestry operations.
Fourteen trails have been set up
A total of 14 trails have already been set up, three business operators have joined the project and several others are in the process of concluding agreements. The majority of the trails are located in ordinary commercial forests, taking in both young seedling stands and older forests.
Irmeli Ruokanen, Specialist in Nature Management at the Finnish Forest Centre, says that the project also provides an excellent opportunity of showing and explaining various forestry operations to tourists.
“Both tourists and businesses have expressed an interest in this,” says Ruokanen.
In all, 20 nature tourism operators and several dozen forest owners have been involved in designing the trails and the template agreement. One of the trails prepared is located in the Kuusamo Jointly Owned Forest.
Sections of some of the trails are located in conservation areas or run along existing tourism trails, such as the UKK Hiking Trail or Karhunkierros. In designing the trails and their rest spots, some use was made of existing campfire shelters and campfire sites.
Lotta Sandvik of the rock climbing operator Outdoor Passion Finland has already worked in several nature tourism projects with private landowners. She likes the template agreement because it provides a clear framework.
“It helps to ensure that all operators will have similar rights and obligations,” Sandvik says.
Not all forest owners want payment
Planning the Natural Pearls of Kuusamo project started in 2016. The finalized template agreement strives to define all aspects that the tourism operator and forest owner may have to agree on.
The template states that the tourism operators may lead customers along the route agreed with the landowner. It is also possible to agree on the use of rest spots, campfire sites, firewood and parking spots. The template includes provisions on terminating the agreement and the basis on which the operator pays the forest owner for using the trail.
The template agreement provides that the nature tourism operator will compensate the forest owner for each year during the January of the following year. The compensation is based on the number of visitors.
In the agreements concluded so far, the compensation varies between zero and three euros per visitor.
“Some forest owners feel that the compensation they receive for the protection of nature sites, either on the basis of the Act on the Financing of Sustainable Forestry or the Nature Conservation Act, is high enough that they do not want to ask for more,” Ruokanen says.
Away from crowds on popular trails
Ruokanen says that the template agreement has been widely praised, by forest owners and professionals and tourism operators alike.
“A delegation representing Swedish forest owners also came to study it and thought it good,” says Ruokanen. Sandvik finds that cooperation is easy now that the principles have been agreed on.
What is also hoped for is that the trails will provide alternatives to more popular trails which are full to capacity, such as the 82-kilometre Karhunkierros.
“Tourists tell us that they keep having to make way for people coming from the opposite direction,” Ruokanen says.
Marketing the trails will be managed by the tourism operators, but links to businesses with access to the trails are also found on the Forest Centre web pages.
Sandvik finds it difficult at this point to set quantitative targets for the business. Still, involvement in the Natural Pearls entails no risk for the operator, since they need not pay the forest owner before they have actually got the money in.
“Just ten new customers would be a big thing for us. We feel that we’ll add value to our nature adventure by being able to offer natural pearls different from the mass destinations. We’re really looking forward to next summer and taking people stand-up paddling, for one thing,” Sandvik says.
The project ’Presenting the Natural Pearls of Private Forests in Kuusamo’ was implemented by the Finnish Forest Centre in 2016–2019. The project was financed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry with funds from the Metso cooperation network. The project also supported voluntary forest protection with the means envisaged for environmental subsidies in the Act on the Financing of Sustainable Forestry and the Nature Conservation Act.