The legislation concerning the new Salla National Park entered into force at the beginning of 2022. The national park has far-reaching positive effects on the Municipality of Salla’s economic life. Now is the right moment to invest in Salla, says Mayor Erkki Parkkinen.
Salla National Park, in Eastern Lapland, is Finland’s 41st national park. Salla National Park has a surface area of approximately 10,000 hectares, and the area has previously been a nature protection area of Sallatunturi.
The national park is a wilderness area, where you can see primeval forests, bogs on the side of fells and rocky hills and forms of terrain that have been shaped during the Ice Age. Even on a short trip, you can experience eskers, gorges and clear water ponds. The national park extends to the Russian border in Eastern Lapland, and from the peak of Sallatunturi, you can admire the fells on the other side of the border, which were once part of Salla.
All of Lapland’s seasons stand out: the autumn’s Northern Lights, the polar night’s blue moments, the summer’s midnight sun and the late winter’s sparkling snow blankets.
Both nature and cultural values are valued in the area. The national park consists rare and endangered plant and animal species. The area also has a rich cultural and historical heritage. There are forest Sami people’s old residential areas and wartime history from the eastern border in the area.
Metsähallitus’ (the Finnish Forest Administration) Nature Services, which invested 4.5 million euros in improving Salla National Park’s service level, is responsible for the national park. The national park is established primarily for nature conservation.
As its first task, Metsähallitus develops the infrastructure of the national park: routes and rest areas will be renewed. In addition, a new Metsähallitus customer service point shall be opened at the Salla Wilderness Park, i.e. the reindeer park, and the nature exhibition shall be reformed. The Municipality of Salla invested one million euros in the expansion of the main building in the reindeer park. Conference and office rooms will be added, and the restaurant will be expanded.
Metsähallitus forms a management and use plan for Salla National Park, which aims to coordinate the objectives and needs of nature conservation, recreational use and other uses for the next 10–15 years.
The news about the establishment of the Salla National Park has been welcomed with joy. Tourists, entrepreneurs, media, and local residents have been excited about the reform.
The mayor of Salla, Erkki Parkkinen, says that there has been almost only positive feedback.
– During the establishment phase, when 4.5 million is invested in the improvement and new build construction of the national park’s infrastructure, a lot of Salla residents will be employed already during the first couple of years, says Parkkinen.
The national park provides leverage for many fields
The establishment of Salla National Park supports the development of the area’s economic life in many ways. Investments in the infrastructure and tourism service develop a positive cycle with far-reaching effects.
The most apparent positive changes will be visible in tourism, such as an increasing number of visitors and year-round tourism. In addition, year-round tourism will allow the emphasis on seasonal jobs in the sector to decrease, which will raise the service quality.
– We have put effort into sustainable tourism for a long time, and now we will be given status due to the national park. It will provide added value to sustainable tourism development, says Paula Aspholm, Municipality of Salla’s Tourism Manager.
The customer base is also changing as a result of the reform. Aspholm explains how the increase in the number of young adults and hikers among Salla’s tourists can already be seen.
Development will also be visible in many other sectors that tourism affect. These sectors include, for example, the trade sector, food processing, natural products, handicrafts, and reindeer herding. During the implementation review of the national park, it was ensured that the municipal residents’ reindeer herding and hunting could be safeguarded.
– The mirror effect will be very extensive, clarifies Parkkinen.
In addition to the tourism sector, the construction sector will undergo a good amount of lift, which will also employ local contractors. The mayor states that those in need of work in Salla are various skilled professionals in the construction sector, so the increase in employment will also increase the vitality of the municipality.
The growth will lead to more tax income from companies, workers, and properties, providing the municipality with better opportunities to further develop the economic life. According to the implementation review, it is estimated that the national park will add 90 person-years of jobs in the area over a period of seven years and lead to a total of 400,000 euros in annual tax profit.
– It works like a snowball effect: allowing further new company investments and profit for the municipality, says Parkkinen.
“The risk to invest in Salla is low”
The sale of plots has already gained pace during last year. Quick reactions in investments are now essential because Parkkinen points out that the land areas at the most popular locations are limited.
– Now is the right time to invest. We have had a favourable forecast and growth in tourism for the last half a decade, he says.
Salla is prepared for the growing demand for services and a growth in the number of visitors. The municipality currently has an ongoing project, allowing existing and new companies established in the area to be supported.
– We put a lot of effort into helping companies that are willing to invest in Salla, and we seek business sectors and services which have the most demand. It also promotes the completion of investments, says Parkkinen.
Tourism Manager Aspholm says that part of the preparations for tourism growth has been the creation of tourists’ customer profiles so that new customer service needs can be identified. In addition to accommodation and programme services, there will also be greater demand for, e.g. well-being services.
The national park term is familiar to everyone, both Finns and foreigners, and works as an attraction factor. Parkkinen clarifies that the existence of a national park tells tourists and investors that the area is valuable. The national park and the responsible growth of tourism will ensure the preservation of nature values in the future as well.
– The risk to invest in Salla became low when the national park was confirmed.
Salla is committed to sustainable tourism
The latest example of local economic effects concerning establishing the national park is found in Northern Finland, close to the eastern border, in Suomussalmi, where Hossa National Park was opened in 2017. The number of visitors in the area doubled, and the local economy effect tripled over the period of one year. Moreover, according to a visitor study conducted by Metsähallitus in Hossa National Park, visitors sought more services and accommodation options.
However, Salla National Park differs from Hossa in the fact that the national park is in the immediate vicinity of the tourism centre, and there are already several tourism services in the area. Last year, a record number of overnight stays were registered because the number of domestic tourists has increased significantly. There were 150,000 registered overnight stays and 3.5 million euros in accommodation sales in January to November 2021.
Salla has considered that the number of beds must be increased particularly.
– Particularly in the winter season, we are vigorously seeking more investments in the accommodation capacity so that we can grow. We already have the accommodation locations in effective use during the winter season, and we are expecting good improvement for the summer season. We already had the first taste of it last summer because it was an exceptionally good season for us, says Aspholm.
The estimated growth with the establishment of the national park is significant. The funding, that the government has invested, is expected to return many times over to the local economy.
– We are committed to sustainable tourism. Salla is not going to become a mass destination, Aspholm says and continues, – We have the capacity to double the number of beds, if not almost triple the amount, and we are still a sustainable destination.
Salla has advantages for tourism trends in the post-coronavirus crisis world, such as tranquillity, open space, and nature. Mayor Parkkinen notes that the municipality uses, for example, town planning to ensure that these features are maintained during growth and that the destination will not become too dense.
There are wishes to promote sustainability and accessibility in transport too, and the aim is for rail transport between Kemijärvi and Salla to be initiated. At the moment, you can travel by train to Kemijärvi from Southern Finland and by bus to Salla from Kemijärvi. However, Parkkinen believes that it is just a matter of time before passenger traffic to Salla will begin.