With the little snow that came this winter now disappearing, Norwegians all over the country are launching into the next season of hiking, cycling, paddling and eventually swimming in the hills and forests surrounding their towns and cities. In Oslo, residents can now do so in the knowledge that their use of local forests has won them an international prize.
The European Forest Institute (EFI), a Finland-based international organization established by European states, selected Oslo for its annual European Forest City Award this year. The award provides official recognition of Oslo residents’ strong ties to their local forests, which now are used mostly for recreational purposes but also provide the city’s drinking water and have nourished the Norwegian capital in other ways for hundreds of years.
They once were home to small settlements, a thriving timber industry and served as sources of industrial power as their waterways were developed for timber transport and mills. During World War II, the forests provided shelter and training grounds for the resistance movement and an important source of berries, mushrooms, fish and game when food was in short supply.
Today nearly 70 percent of the forests collectively known as Oslomarka are privately owned but protected by law, with development limited to preserve the important open space for future generations. The City of Oslo itself also owns vast tracts of forest, and most of the eastern region known as Østmarka.
Oslomarka spreads in horseshoe form around the capital in nine distinct areas: Kjekstadmarka bordering on Asker in the southwest and then, spreading to the north and east, Vestmarka, Bærumsmarka, Krokskogen, Nordmarka, Lillomarka, Romeriksåsen, Østmarka and Sørmarka.
They all feature their own characteristics, with the highest summits in Nordmarka, which sprawls for around 40 kilometers due north of the city, to the lower but “up and down” terrain of Østmarka to the east. All the user-friendly forests are full of well-marked hiking and skiing trails, with detailed maps available in book- and stationery stores and programs like Kjentmannsmerket making them ever better known and familiar, by providing specific goals for year-round treks.
(For a sampling of stories about the forests known as “marka” over the years, click here.)
Oslo Mayor Marianne Borgen of the Socialist Left party (SV) is proud that the city won the European distinction, and claims to use the forests often herself. Her favourite recreation involves getting up early on Sunday and walking quickly on the forest roads and trails from Østmarkasetra towards another timber lodge called Mariholtet, where she can enjoy hot cocoa and fresh pastries. Even though she urges others to invite or neighbour or newcomer to Oslo to make the trek together, she enjoys going alone after a busy work week: “Then I get a sense of peace in the soul, and good humour.”