The natural beauty of Valkeala

Päivi Parkkonen and Jari Eskelinen’s family of six feels at home in Valkeala sports centre and its surrounding esker landscape.

And off we go! Onni Eskelinen, 9, takes the lead on Valkeala sports centre’s running stairs. Behind him are his sisters Helmi, 11 and Ada Eskelinen, 13. At their heels is their mother, Päivi Parkkonen.

Soon they are joined by Helmi’s twin brother Heikki and their father Jari Eskelinen, who had been watching Heikki’s football training on the nearby artificial turf field.

Helmi and Onni also play for Valkealan Kajo football team. The sports centre is about a kilometre’s walk from home.

The family then heads for the nearby Harjumäki sawdust track, to a “laavu” (a forest lean-to shelter) and its nearby outdoor fitness spot.

“As a family, we probably come to the esker nearly every other week,” Päivi Parkkonen estimates. “Some of us spend time here weekly.”

Päivi works as a lecturer of history and sociology at Valkeala upper secondary school and Jari is a lecturer of Finnish at Valkeala lower secondary school.

The family moved to Valkeala seven years ago, and since then, the coniferous heaths of the esker have been their second home. Here they go hiking, running, mountain-biking and play on the 18-hole frisbee golf course.

“Heikki is the family frisbee golf pro at the moment,” says Jari.

Onni and Helmi scramble up a huge boulder. Climbing and playing in the forest has been part of the children’s everyday lives since they were small.

“Ada doesn’t come with us anymore, but sometimes she goes to the running stairs. I sometimes do a kettlebell workout there,” says Päivi.

Exercise for all the family

Veli Koski, the organizer of Valkeala Kajo, is the father of the lean-to and the frisbee gold course. He can often be seen raking leaves in the forest and keeping things in order.

“The City has installed a counter device on the track from the car park to the forest. 200 000 people walked past it last year,” Koski tells us.

An astounding number, but the scenic Harjumäki area is always rife with activity on a sunny summer day. As it also is in winter. Snow is stored in a container beneath the sawdust on the edge of the esker, and is used to make a ski track at the end of the autumn.

The Eskelinen-Parkkonen children’s favourite winter pastime however, is sledging down the gravel pit, which is right beside the lean-to.

The children make a camp fire from the logs beside the fire pit. Waiting for the embers to form, Heikki begins to do pull-ups on the horizontal bar. Onni and Helmi start wrestling.

At the end of the summer, the family picks berries on the esker for their blueberry pies. The children willingly participate when the reward is so delicious. Their team of six gathers the berries needed for the pie in no time.

“Unless the berries keep ending up in their mouths,” laughs Jari. “But we don’t take berry-picking as work; it’s just fun outdoors.”

Live like a local

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Roughness and toughness

International Kouvola

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