I have a dream. A well-known and often cited phrase from the speech Martin Luther King gave in 1963 fits in to many scales. My dream is way more modest and local than the dream that King had as a champion of peace and equality. Yet it has some similar aspirations and it affects the life of many a inhabitant in Southwest Finland.
I have a dream where the recreational areas would remain within the reach of as many inhabitants and tourists as possible, and in the future would be used by all the inhabitants or travellers regardless of where they live or which municipality or organisation owns the area.
Furthermore I dream that these areas – even the tiniest ones – would be interconnected by a regional network of recreational hiking, outdoor or biking routes into a large regional network.
Although every year 96 percent of Finns go out for hiking, backpacking or Nordic walking, only minuscule amounts of resources have been invested for supporting development of these recreational activities. Indeed, the resources allocated to the development of trails and the small structures that support the recreational areas are very small, when compared to the number of people using the areas and trails. Compared to this other types of sports and activities cost a lot more to the society.
All hiking trails with their support areas are built and maintained by public funding. Furthermore, when quick fixes for financial shortfalls in public funding are sought for, the recreational areas are usually the first targets for funding cuts.
Even though almost every one of us enjoys the recreational areas and routes, there is no ombudsman or other single actor to oversee and promote the interests of the recreational areas.
Yet, my dream also involves a hope, that people would see beyond the money and funding issues and recognize the positive outcomes that arise from the increased well-being of the inhabitants, their improved welfare in the working life and the overall attractiveness of the area. Finns search for strength in the nature every day.
An average Finn engages in 2-3 recreational activities in the nature, and those 170 times that he/she goes out in the nature yearly demonstrate and emphasize the sense and the obvious importance of developing and maintaining nearby outdoor trails and recreational possibilities.
But there are clouds in the horizon of hiking and outdoor activities. The article by Tuija Sievänen and Marjo Neuvonen in a book "Hyvinvointia metsästä" clearly points out that on the average, hiking or similar kind of outdoor activity is becoming the past time of far older people than was the case ten years ago. For this reason I dream about a situation where we could provide easily accessible and versatile recreational areas and clearly marked routes to younger hikers. The understanding and the respect of the nature doesn't come about if one never go out into nature.
The Regional Council of Southwest Finland has taken a grip of a part of this huge totality by promoting the idea of creating a regional recreational association to Southwest Finland. Southwest Finland is a multifaceted area.
The newly nominated supervisor of parks of Metsähallitus said recently that the only thing we miss here in Southwest Finland are the reindeers.
If we only through active and devoted cooperation could form a regional association that would promote the interest of the recreational areas and routes we wouldn't just take baby steps towards my dream. We would take a huge leap closer towards a situation where the quality of life in Southwest Finland is the best in the country.