CSU Partners with European Universities to Study Visitor Experience in Finland’s National Parks and Sustainable Rural Tourism in Estonia

A successful research trip in Finland and participation in a summer field university in Estonia during summer 2009 earned a team from the Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources at Colorado State University an invitation to return to the Baltic-European countries in summer 2010. The team studied visitor perceptions of biodiversity at a Finnish national park and participated in the International Summer University in Sustainable Rural Tourism in Estonia.

As a continuation of his work in the 2009 Fulbright Specialists Program, Stuart Cottrell, CSU associate professor and global tourism coordinator in the Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources, served as the keynote speaker and teacher for the International Summer University in Sustainable Rural Tourism that was held in August 2010 in Saaremaa Island, Estonia.

Jana Raadik-Cottrell from Estonia and former doctoral candidate at CSU, was academic coordinator of the summer university. Cottrell and CSU natural resource recreation and tourism students Zachary Laraway, Robert Gregg, Rebecca Howe and Jason Anspach were the only Americans to take part in the summer university field course, which taught the benefits of sustainable tourism for rural island communities. The course was facilitated by the Kuressaare College branch campus of Tallinn University of Technology on Saaremaa Island.

“The highlight of my summer was giving the keynote lecture on sustainable tourism development,” Cottrell said. “It set the tone of the International Summer University in sustainable rural tourism for students and faculty from Estonia, Finland, The United Kingdom, Latvia and Germany.”

The program was developed to help improve the quality of tourism development in the rural countryside and widen the scope of international cooperation among higher education institutions in teaching of sustainable rural tourism in Europe and former Soviet-occupied nations, where the potential of rural tourism is largely unused.

“Sustainable tourism is based on the knowledge and implementation of sustainable practices to preserve local cultures and protect their natural environment,” Laraway said. “This has a lot to do with local citizens in the area and their willingness to take part in learning more about sustainable tourism.”

Before the summer university in Estonia began, Cottrell and Raadik-Cottrell worked with researchers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands and the University of Oulu in Finland to conduct research in Finland’s Oulanka National Park. The research to examine visitor perceptions of biodiversity hotspots in the park was a continuation of Cottrell’s 2009 research in the park.

Part of the Finnish project was to map areas of high biodiversity along trials and recreational use to determine potential areas of environmental and user conflict. This information will be used to determine how to best manage visitor flow and facilities while maintaining biodiversity in the park.

“The success of parks like Oulanka depends on ensuring nature conservation while offering visitors a high-quality experience,” Cottrell said.

Zachary Laraway, senior Natural Resources Recreation and Tourism major and president of the Warner College of Natural Resources College Council, completed an internship as a tour guide in Soomaa National Park in Southwestern Estonia, where he hiked, camped and canoed down the park’s many trails and rivers.

“The scenery was beautiful. I lived 20 feet away from the Raudna River surrounded by old oak and aspen trees. There was a wide-open bog filled with berries and mushrooms about a half mile down the trail where I often spent the nights around the campfire with two other Estonian guides drinking local homemade beer and eating local cuisine,” Laraway said. "You can’t make a destination more beautiful, but you can make it more interesting.”

The research trip to Finland and the summer university in Estonia was funded by a $3,000 mini-grant from CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources, $3,000 from the International Field Experience program, $750 from the Environmental Governance Working Group, $5,000 from the Finnish LAPBIAT International Scientific Collaboration Group and $800 from the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn, Estonia.