What is a geopark?
Geoparks are single, unified geographical areas that have sites and landscapes of international geological significance. A geopark raises awareness of the importance of the area’s geological heritage and promotes local sites, products and services. Some of the key objectives of geoparks include preserving a region’s natural and cultural heritage, strengthening local identity and promoting sustainable tourism.
Geoparks tell the story of the local landscape and land formations, and highlight the connection between local culture, living surroundings and geology. A geopark raises awareness of the importance of the area’s geological heritage and promotes local sites, products and services. The sites in a geopark are not only geologically interesting but many are also archeologically, ecologically, historically and/or culturally significant.
Some of the key objectives of geoparks include preserving a region’s natural and cultural heritage, strengthening local identity and promoting sustainable tourism. Developing education for sustainable development is important part of the work.
The work of a geopark is based on commitment by the local communities, multiple partnerships with a wide range of local actors, long-term public and political support, and networking with the national and global geopark community.
UNESCO Global Geoparks
UNESCO Global Geopark is a designation awarded to geologically significant areas by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). UNESCO ratified the creation of a new label, the UNESCO Global Geoparks, during the 38th General Conference of the Organisation in 2015. In August 2020, there are a total of 161 UNESCO Global Geoparks in 44 countries around the world. The number of UNESCO Global Geoparks continues to grow as new geoparks are accepted into the network each year based on their applications and field evaluations.
The Global Geoparks Network (GGN) is an international cooperative organisation founded in 2004. All UNESCO Global Geoparks are members of the Network. The purpose of the Network is to work together and exchange ideas of best practices. The European Geoparks Network is a similar network of European geoparks.
Photo: Azores UNESCO Global Geopark, 14th European Geopark Conference, September 2017.
UNESCO Global Geoparks are sites of geological interest, but the concept also includes the promotion of regional culture, history and nature. The purpose of geoparks is to promote sustainable tourism and regional economies, improve understanding of the local area and strengthen local identity by developing educational activities directed at all ages. Networking, cooperation and learning from other geoparks are also important elements in the work of these organisations. Geoparks work towards achieving the Agenda 2030 sustainable development goals of the United Nations.
So far, there are two UNESCO Global Geoparks in Finland: Rokua Geopark and Lauhanvuori-Hämeenkangas Geopark. Saimaa Geopark has submitted their application. The Salpausselkä Geopark area, comprising the municipalities of Asikkala, Heinola, Hollola, Lahti, Padasjoki and Sysmä, is being developed to meet the criteria set for UNESCO Global Geoparks. The aim is to submit an application to UNESCO in 2020.
Explore the interesting sites of the Salpausselkä Geopark
Onkiniemi Rocking Stone, Sysmä
This erratic boulder sitting on a rock surface smoothed by the continental ice sheet is the best-known rocking stone in Finland. It can be easily spotted from the E75 main road. The erratic boulder was positioned in this peculiar way by the continental ice sheet.
Pajulahti Sports Centre, Lahti
The Pajulahti Sports and Olympic Training Centre is located in Nastola, Lahti. In the cafeteria you can see Finland’s nearly two-billion-year-old bedrock up close, as one of the walls is a bare quarried rock wall. It is formed of two main types of rock: light-coloured granite and dark mica schists. Pajulahti is surrounded by diverse lakeside nature and offers a wide range of activities and services.
Pirunkirkko Cave, Heinola
Pirunkirkko Cave, a huge rapakivi granite rock formation shaped by the continental ice sheet, is an impressive geological site in the Paistjärvi Area. It is a leaning cliff forming a cave that resembles a gigantic lean-to shelter. According to folktales, local people used Pirunkirkko as a refuge during hostile invasions in the 18th century. The area features easy marked trails running along beautiful eskers, campfire sites, clearwater lakes, cliffs and sandy beaches.
Tiirismaa Hill and Pirunpesä Gorge, Hollola
Tiirismaa Hill is the highest point in southern Finland. It consists of quartzite, sedimentary rock that originated in the quartz sand accumulated at the bottom of a shallow shore about 1 850 million years ago. The monumental Pirunpesä Gorge is a cliff fissure in the quartzite Tiirismaa bedrock that has attracted visitors since the 1800s. There is a 4.5-kilometre marked hiking trail with info boards, a small shelter and campfire sites in the area.