I can use the forest trails to go straight to work.
"If I had to live a life where I sit in a car for an hour both on the way and coming back from work at night, I would find that quite gloomy." Luckily Mikko "Peltsi" Peltola does not need to. The well-known journalist and nature lover lives right beside Helsinki's Central Park.
"I was born in Maununneva and have lived within the same one-kilometre radius my whole life. Now I live in a house that I had built on the same lot as my childhood home. My workplace is in Pasila and I can reach it just using the forest trails if I wish."
Peltola has loved exploring his local forest since he was a kid. "At the time, parents used to drive their kids everywhere. I played hockey, and my parents drove me to practice and paid for my hobby. But if I wanted to go somewhere else, it meant biking. Or if I wanted something else, I would go around the woods with my friends picking up bottles and make some cash with the deposit. It was one way of getting to know the forest."
Peltola also had a "city centre phase", during which the young man painted graffiti and played records in the downtown nightclubs. "I'm a graffiti fan but nowadays those places no longer exist due to development. When I was young, there were legendary spots like a gallery in Pasila, a "pigeon tunnel" in Haaga and the warehouse venue Lepakko. As a young man, the city centre was important. Once I expanded my work horizons, I started to value the outdoors more and more."
A lover of wilderness and Lapland, Peltola once even considered moving up north. "The idea didn't however resonate at home. My wife and I have always been tied to the south because of work. On the other hand, living in a house practically in the forest with a yard full of trees and the immediate vicinity of the Central Park mean we don’t feel a strong need to head to the backwoods."
Nowadays Peltola works at the national broadcaster Yle and makes nature programmes that are well-known throughout Finland. In addition, he is also active in local initiatives to protect the nearby forests and monitor fishing. "My love for my home surroundings is great. Here in the Pirkkola district we are currently fighting hard over the site for the new sports hall. There is a plan to cut down a forest patch to clear out the site. I have also taken a public stand on it because I see forests as important. All research shows that forests are significant places for most citizens. A while back, I discovered my grandfather's hunting permit from 1963. It grants permission to shoot birds and small game in, for instance Haaga and Kaarela. Now those areas are full of houses. I understand well the pressures of expanding the cityscape, but it always stings when buildings are constructed over forest. The importance of man-made structures grows smaller and smaller for me. From my perspective, nature is clearly the most important thing."
If you spend a couple of days in downtown Helsinki and feel like a bike ride, run or a walk in the forest, Central Park starts right at the edge of the city centre. I live by the northern side of the park. Almost every day, I'm out there walking our dog, making little excursions with the kids, and mountain biking.
I would say that the most popular cross-country skiing tracks are in Paloheinä. There is also a long flight of stairs on a hilltop, it is very popular to run up and down them. I have mostly been there to ride my bike uphill, it's a good workout. I also visit the artificial hill in Malminkartano, they have even longer stairs.
The river banks of Vantaanjoki have, surprisingly enough, been saved from development. The area is in quite a natural state and has a touch of wilderness. The water quality has become better, and many anglers visit the area. As the name of Pitkäkoski ('long rapids') suggests, the protected recreation zone also has a hiking lodge that even had a queue outside it during the Corona period with people waiting for donuts. The Haltiala farm found in the downstream is home to domestic animals and a restaurant. I have been fishing at the Vantaanjoki river since I was a kid. It is only a couple of kilometres from our home. Recently I have also participated in fishing monitoring there, mandated by the City of Vantaa. I used to get annoyed by people doing foolish things by the river so I decided to take action. Mostly people have their permit in order and they even get excited if they get carded. It means that they care.
In recent years, I have been excited about destinations that are not man-built. However I am an avid sauna lover, I know the manager Jasper and his magnificent efforts for sustainable fishing, so I can warmly recommend the Löyly sauna. And what an amazing place it is! You can also reach it by water, even by canoe.
One of my favourite sights is arriving on the island, which is about three-four kilometres out at sea, to nothing and just observing the city on a quiet summer night. When you camp out on the beach, you can see the shimmer of the city, perhaps a bit of the silhouette of the Helsinki Cathedral. You are in nature, with the city in front of you, but in complete silence.
The idea behind Skipperi is brilliant! You can rent a boat and take it out to sea without having to own one. The watersports centre Laguuni at Keilaniemi has an amazing system. If you pick up trash on the beach, you can borrow a canoe for free. I think it's great that the city's ferries are also marked on the local transport navigation app. The ferry network is an effortless way to explore the nearby islands.
The bay of Vartiokylänlahti is a fairly new discovery for me. I once took my kid to the Liikuntamylly sports centre in Myllypuro and had a couple of hours to kill. I started walking towards Vartiokylänlahti, which I had never visited before. It is unbelievably lush there, like being in a jungle. There is forest right at the beach, trails and a sand path that goes around the whole bay. An outdoor gym, beach for swimming, and more!