Cooperation for the benefits of wilderness and tourism alike
The cooperation between Oulanka and Paanajärvi National Parks dates back to the early 90’s. Their already close cooperation was then again boosted by the two year Interreg project “Oulanka-Paanajärvi – wilderness, experiences and well-being”, which they ran from 2005 onwards. The aim of the project was to improve the preconditions of nature-based tourism by developing the services of the park pair. Also in 2005 both parks became members of the EUROPARC TransParcNet by receiving the Transboundary Certificate for their model cooperation across borders. The twin parks of Oulanka and Paanajärvi National Parks form an internationally unique wilderness area and an important destination for nature-oriented tourism. Oulanka National Park, which is only almost a quarter of the size of Paanajärvi National Park, benefits from the size of its neighbouring partner. A larger area means wider habitats for flora and fauna, which supports the level of biodiversity and consequently a higher level of attraction for tourists. Paanjärvi National Park on the other hand also benefits from the number of tourists visiting Oulanka National Park and that take a trip across the border. The 160.000 tourists a year are a significant means of income for the region. Hence, the Interreg project was triggered by the need to secure and reinforce the parks’ position as the most important resource for nature-oriented tourism in the area in addition to their status as a national and international attraction.
Peace and mutual understanding
The close cooperation of both protected areas also helped for better understanding between Finnish and Russians on both sides of the border. The western part of Paanajärvi once was Finnish territory and up until now the attitudes of the Finnish people towards their Russian neighbours have been sceptical. Both parks act as role model for peaceful cooperation and the declaration of Paanajärvi as National Park allows for former residents to visit their homeland more easily. The benefits of working together and sharing experiences don’t need comments: international funding can and has been accessed, common threats like climate change and biodiversity loss can be approached and managed together, new visitor centres and conservation offices have been built and visitor numbers to both protected areas increased.