Foreningen for vandring og
naturbeskyttelse i Grønland
Amitsorsuaq, set fra kano center
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Where humans and animals still share their paths
"Leave no trace but your footprints," is a well-known slogan of American conservationists, to which this initiative also feels committed. Footsprints or hoofprints by animals and humans contain messages for those, who can read them.
Our website background image shows such imprints by reindeer and humans. The photograph was taken on the "Arctic Circle Trail", originally known as "Polar Route". The imprints contain an important message: Animals and humans share a common path and the same direction.
This applies literally and figuratively. When you notice traces of wild game on a hiking trail in my home country Germany, they cross human tracks, because the game will cross our tracks just as we cross a dreaded traffic connection, but never share it as a path. But here in Greenland, it is still different. And this is the way it should stay.
What is special about the Polar Route?
The Polar Route is one of the most important long-distance trails in the Arctic and the most well-known and visited Greenland, though it is not the longest or even the most difficult trail. And those who hike on it do not need to face a dangerous sporting challenge. Not iron condition is required on the Polar Route, but respect and sensitivity to a unique nature and cultural landscape.
So what makes the special about the Polar Route, which motivates every year many to a hike, not a few to come back again and again. You will not be able to say that without subjective reviews. I have the impression that during the walk you experience a metamorphosis, a change to yourself, and at the end of the journey you feel that you have become a part of the trail and the nature surrounding you. And I get the feeling that that has been the case since ancient times.
4500 years and a hiking trail
An untouched nature in the strict sense will not find those, who walk on this trail. As far as we know, about 1990, the Polar Route was marked as a long-distance hiking trail. But this area between the great ice and the coast, the largest ice-free area on the west coast of Greenland, has long been, since 4500 years, when the first humans set foot on Greenland, a cultural landscape, on which many people walked on foot, or travelled by the dog sledge, kayak or Umiaq in east-west direction back and forth. That means, this hiking area is older than the pyramids of Egypt. As long as people live in Greenland, they have lived here, and there are hundreds of archaeological sites in the area that testify it. "Untouched," whatever that word means, is the way and the landscape through which it leads, not. But it did not change its face, it still looks almost as it did the day, when the first human set foot on it. This is unique, and that is the message that, what one gets, if one can read the imprints on the trail.
The people, who have left this message on the trail in past millennia and centuries, certainly did not have a scientifically based concept of sustainability - but they have practiced it! If a way can have a message for the world, that's one.
That's what we stand for!
The number of hikers has increased steadily in recent years. Paddy Dillon wrote in 2010 in his guide: "around 300 people a year walk the trail". Others spoke of up to 600 hikers annually. But nobody had counted them.
That's why in the summer of 2016, when we reopened the Kangerlussuaq campsite, we counted the hikers for the first time using a statistical method. The result was 1,290 hikers a year, much more than anyone had thought before.
The whole report can be seen here
Such a large number will cause problems that make the municipality-financed maintenance of the trail, especially the huts on it, reach its limits. Therefore, a few years ago an association for the promotion of the trail was founded. The association should organize civic engagement to preserve the trail and seek to develop a culture oriented towards a sustainable and responsible use of the trail and Greenlandic nature.
However, the association also strives to achieve a participation of those in the management and design of the path that wander on it. If those who decide and shape the future of the path may never have walked the path, and those who wander on it are not involved in administration and organization, conflicts between the two sides are unavoidable; only by dialogue can be avoided and/or resolved.
Once you've walked the path, you'll see how necessary it all is. All beginning for such an association is difficult. That's why
new members are welcome
How long will the Polar Route still be?
Unfortunately, the future of this trail is not so safe and this has worried many hikers. This not only applies to the problems arising from the growing number of hikers described in the last paragraph. Since then, bigger problem have arised. In 2015, modifying earlier plans to build a road between Sisimiut and Kangerlussuaq, it was decided to build a road for off-road vehicles or ATVs (= All Terrain Vehicle). It should form the core of an economic development plan. We have compiled information from different sources to
. A comprehensice description of it is to be found
. The plans range from a mass transport of cruise tourists ("In total 8.000-10.000 cruisers per season distributed over 40 port-of-calls.", source:
Igloo Mountain ApS
) to attractive places in the interior of the region to
car test areas
, used by a well-known Swedish company. That's not all, this are only some examples. And all this should be combined with the registration of this region in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The reactions of the shocked hikers on the Polar Route have so far found expression in a
signed in 2016/17 by three hundred hikers in Greenland, about what Qeqqata Municipality is informed since 2016. An answer from the municipality is still missing today.
The situation once again appeared in a different light when, in the beginning of 2017, an
for a specific area in this region for inclusion in the World Heritage List as a unique cultural landscape was submitted (by the Danish Government) to UNESCO. It is a smaller part of an area registered in 2003 on the recommendation of the Nordic Council of Ministers in the tentative World Heritage List.
A map sketch is available here
. A representative of the municipality has stated that the municipality sees no contradiction between the application to UNESCO and the road project; however, if UNESCO saw it differently, there would be no entry in the World Heritage List and the municipality wanted to stick to the road project.
Our association regrets this attitude and does not share this view. It interpreted the memorandum signed by 300 hikers as a mandate for a
(1.) to the Danish government, which represents Greenland against UNESCO, (2.) to the Prime Minister of Greenland, Kim Kielsen, who is also Minister for the Environment and Nature Protection, and to the Parliament of Greenland; and (3.) to UNESCO itself, which intends to decide this year on the application for inclusion in the World Heritage List. You can dowload it here.
This input was sent in February 2018 to the three addressees. Apart from a few acknowledgments of receipt, there is still no answer. We, therefore, call for a
petition on the Internet
to support our demands.
2016 - 2018 • Frieder Weiße • Berlin