Location: Lieksa, Koli
A circular trail rising from the shores of Lake Pielinen into the hilly slash-and-burn scenery of Koli.
Start: just above the Rantatie road next to Koli Quay.
Distance: 2.5km, walking time 75 mins
Distance from Koli village: 2.2km.
For motorists: Road No.504 from Koli village towards Hattusaari for 1.1km. Follow sign-post to the right to Kolin ranta (=shore) for 1.1km to Koli Quay.
General description: good forest trail, includes short stretch of gravel road. Some slopes, total rise to Vaaralanaho from the Quay approx 130m.
Rest points: camp-fire point about half way to Vaaralanaho, with firewood provided. Water from nearby well should only be drunk after boiling. There is a barn next to the rest point, with table and benches.
Trail markings: blue-topped stakes used with National Park map. Information boards alongside the trail.
Recommended equipment: hiking boots or jogging shoes. (depending on weather)
Flora: deciduous glades with slash-and-burn birch, spruce, slash-and-burn meadows, stand of birch for research purposes of the Forest Research Institute.
Historic background: Part of the trail is along one of Koli's oldest hiking trails. Vaaralanaho has been inhabited since the 1700s. Passenger boats have been using Lake Pielinen for over 100 years with Koli Quay one of the busiest stop-offs. The large rock at the quay was left there by the receding glaciers of the last ice-age. It was engraved to sign-post the trail opened in 1903 to the top of Koli Hill.
Detailed guide: from the roadside sign-post the trail steadily rises towards the northern slope of Ipatti Hill. The trail forks almost immediately, take the right fork to a ferny glade. Flora include lady-ferns, daphne, and fly honey-suckle.
Looking to the left from the fork you can see the ruins of the Koli Lower Inn built in 1911 to serve travellers who in those days arrived mainly by boat. The building fell into disrepair and was pulled down in 1981.
From the fern glade the trail rises through a wood of silver birch, which have successfully taken over a patch of land produced by slash-and-burn clearance. The silver birch is Finland's national tree.
From the birch wood the trail leads into a thick spruce grove where ant-hills over 200 years old can be found. From the spruce grove the trail leads to the edge of a recent slash-and-burn area from the late 1990s.
From the corner of the clearing at marker 47 the trail bears left, winding along between the edge of the spruce and a plantation of saplings till it passes the buildings of the Forest Research Institute to reach the Vaaralanaho rest point, from which the ruins of Vaarala farm can be seen.
From this point the trail turns left downhill towards the Quay (marker 6).
To the right of the trail there is a plot of birch planted for research purposes with silver birch from various parts of Finland. The trail soon enters a grove of spruce, with some trees reaching 30m, age approx. 150 years.
From marker 43 turn sharp left towards the Quay. In spring and early summer the ½km stretch through this glade is filled with bird song. The North Karelian provincial flower, the Karelian Rose, grows here.
Slash-and-Burn at Koli
The use of the slash-and-burn technique has provided the inhabitants of Finnish forests a major source of food for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. When the first permanent settlement of the Koli hillsides began in the 1700s fields were cleared using this technique. The ash from the burning trees and undergrowth fertilised the moraine and made possible good harvests of rye and turnips. This method was practised into the 1930s.
Slash-and-burn and forest grazing have left their mark on Koli's scenery and on its biological diversity with brilliant flower displays in the summer meadows. The piles of rocks seen in many places have been cleared from fields to allow farming.
The Forest Research Institute has continued the tradition of slash-and-burn annually since 1994 to maintain the biodiversity of the area. The areas treated in this way are marked on trail maps and this trail runs through most of them. The area treated annually will increase to about 5 hectares under a new EU/Life project begun in 2003. The project will eventually cover some 150 hectares of old slash-and-burn within the National Park. Koli is the only national park in the world where traditional slash-and-burn is used to this extent.