First national park turns 50

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The majestic, almost moon-like peaks of Norway’s Rondane National Park have drawn hikers and climbers for years and now they have a reason to celebrate once they get there. This year marks 50 years since Rondane became Norway’s first nasjonalpark, and the festivities have already begun.

The mountains of Rondane, as seen from the east, south of Folldal. PHOTO: Views and News

Jubilee treks, concerts and other cultural arrangements are taking place throughout the summer, with the next three-day group hike organized by the Norwegian Trekking Association (Den Norske Turistforeningen, DNT) scheduled for July 28. Other guided tours and a concert were scheduled for last weekend in and around DNT’s Rondvassbu lodge.

The official celebrations of the 50th anniversary for Rondane (roughly pronounced Ron-dawn-uh) won’t take place until the first weekend in September, with a conference on the management of the parks in nearby Otta, while the actual day of the national park’s founding isn’t until December 21. Since that’s in the deepest, darkest part of winter, most of the celebration was moved to this summer. August 11 has been set aside as Nasjonalparkdagen, to commemorate the birth of all of Norway’s national parks, which now number 41.

There are lots of wide open spaces around Rondane National Park, too, like here at Ringebufjellet just south of the park, also with lots of hiking trails and nearby accommodation. PHOTO: Views and News

It all started with Rondane in 1962, late compared to the US’ initiative to start protecting its most spectacular scenery with the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872. Given Norway’s small population and vast areas of mountains and fjords, the need to protect specific portions of its great outdoors was perhaps not seen as acute, but in the 1950s, a fjelloppsynsmann (warden in the mountains) named Norman Heitkøtter launched a conservation debate, not least because of the wild reindeer known to wander in the Rondane area.

The idea of conservation had been discussed for decades earlier, according to a recent article in DNT’s Fjell og Vidde magazine. “It took time before those of us in Norway realized that valuable nature could disappear if we didn’t secure it against certain forms of human influence,” wrote Marius Nergård Pettersen, noting how neighbouring Sweden created its own first national park in 1909.

A law allowing conservation was passed in Norway in 1910, and it was invoked to protect various plants in Dovrefjell, but another 16 years passed before the law could be used to protect large areas, and another 36 before Heitkøtter’s initiative finally resulted in the formal creation of Rondane National Park.

“With the creation of Rondane, one of the country’s most beautiful natural areas was taken care of,” said Kjartan Askim of DNT. “National park status has meant a lot, both for preservation of a nationally important outdoor recreation area and not least to secure the wild reindeer’s natural grazing area.”

Just a year after Rondane came creation of the second national park, Børgefjell, and that led to a stream of other parks, seven of which now are located on the Arctic archipelago of Svalvard. All told, they make up 10 percent of Norway’s total land area, and all have encountered opposition when first proposed, mostly from local residents who fear bans on future development.

The parks nonetheless are viewed as national treasures, “the crême de la crême of Norwegian nature,” according to former state secretary Heidi Sørensen in the state environmental ministry. Rondane has a special place in Norwegian history and also art, mentioned often in literature and with its peaks used in what’s considered Norway’s most popular landscape painting, Vinternatt i Rondane by Harald Sohlberg, which hangs in the National Gallery in Oslo.

Rondane, with 10 peaks higher than 2,000 meters, straddles both Oppland and Hedmark counties in eastern Norway south of Trondheim. For more information, see the following websites:

www.norgesnasjonalparker.no (in Norwegian, but with a map and list of the various parks, English pdf version here)

www.rondanestien.no

www.turistforeningen.no

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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