Jouni Laaksonen 3.2.2020
This is the sixth post in a twelve post series. See index here.
Forest is considered the green gold of Finland. There is forest everywhere in our country, and Finnish people have known for centuries how to turn that into income.
Let’s skip the earlier millennia, when woods were ‘only’ important as the habitat of prey animals, and as source of firewood and building material. And let us bypass also the era of slash-and-burn kind of agriculture. Those ways to use forest didn’t involve much monetary income.
This way we bump into 17th century, when tar production began. This was the era of wooden sailing ships, and lots of tar was needed in various naval countries for ship building and maintenance. Tar production reached its peak after the midway of 19th century, and it continued until the beginning of 20th century.
Producing tar in a tar-burning pit is a long and tedious process, but let’s not go deeper into it. I just mention that there are thousands of old tar pits (tervahauta in Finnish) around Finnish forests. If you know what to look for, you can easily see several during your hikes in Finland. (See more in Hiking in Finland, page 122.)
Commercial logging started in larger scale in Finland at the same time as tar production decreased. The first sawmills in Northern Finland were founded at the end of 19th century in the towns Kemi and Tornio. Both of these are at the mouth of a big river, which was the deciding factor when the location was considered.
Auttiköngäs waterfall and a timber floating chute beside it. The timber floaters’ cabin cannot be seen on this pic, but it is right beside the waterfall, to the right from the pic. It serves nowadays as an open day trip hut.
There were not many roads in the whole Northern Finland, and especially there were no roads deep into the forests. The river systems were the way to transport logs to sawmills.
For the several first decades there were no machines, not even chain saws, and there was no method of clearcutting. The lumberjacks built timber cabins near the logging areas, out of the trees that grew there. There have been hundreds, possibly thousands of lumberjack cabins in the woods of Finland.
Ruins of a lumberjacks’ cabin deep in the heart of Oulanka National Park.
Many of them are rotten nowadays. You can bump into a ruin of a timber cabin right beside a hiking trail (like the Korouoma trail), or deep inside a national park (like in Hiidenportti or Oulanka NP). That’s something to see as interesting history rather than ruined scenery. For, because there was no clearcutting, the forest looked like forest even after the selective logging. Then add a hundred years of time for nature to recover, and you get old-growth forest looking very nearly untouched forest.
Some of the old lumberjack cabins are now in private use, but some are open wilderness huts. For example Kukkuri, Lavajärvi and Puukkojärvi wilderness huts in Hossa National Park are old lumberjacks cabins, or related to logging. Kukkuri hut was in fact a shelter for timber floaters, and both Lavajärvi and Puukkojärvi hut used to be sauna of the logging camp. The large accommodation cabin has been removed from both of these sites, but at Lavajärvi you can still see remnants of an impressively large stable.
The old dam that was used when logs were floated along this river system serves as a bridge for hikers, and the timber floaters’ cabin is now an open wilderness hut. Kukkuri, Hossa NP.
Hossa National Park is a great destination both for hiking, canoeing, mountain biking and skiing, and fishing. Lavajärvi open wilderness hut.
Other examples of timber floaters’ cabins are Ränkänsaari wilderness hut in Kuhmo waterways, Arpainen wilderness hut in Western Finland and Auttiköngäs day trip hut near Rovaniemi (and this one beside a high waterfall). More information about floating timber, and a picture of Auttiköngäs waterfall from another angle here.
Me and my daughters visiting Arpainen open wilderness hut a couple of years ago.
Toraslampi open wilderness hut is situated along the hiking and mountain biking trails (and ski tracks) of Syöte National Park.
Suurijärvi is a less well known hiking destination, but there is a largish open wilderness hut, and also an open sauna by the lake (sauna in the pic).
So, the history of the use of forests is full of interesting tales. If you see old ruins of a timber cabin, you can try to imagine how hard it was for the lumberjack to cut down a mighty pine without machine tools. And then to transport it to a sawmill hundreds of kilometers away, without any motorized help.
Or at an old fire guard’s cabin (more of these in next post) imagine how lonely it was to spend all the summer up there. Hoping that another boring day would be ahead, meaning no signs of fires to be seen.
But naturally forests are immensely more than a source of money! They are the lungs of the Earth, providing oxygen and using up carbon dioxide, they provide a home to thousands of species, and they create wonderful surroundings for human recreation, too.