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Russian Arctic National Park opens first visitor center on Novaya Zemlya

The Russian Arctic National Park is Russia’s northernmost and biggest nature reserve

ARKHANGELSK, February 25. /TASS/. The Russian Arctic National Park will open the first visitor center on the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago in summer 2020, the park’s Director Alexander Kirilov told TASS.

The Russian Arctic National Park is Russia’s northernmost and biggest nature reserve, which takes the area of 8.8 million hectares. It was organized on June 15, 2009. The Park includes a northern part of the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago’s Severny Island and the entire Franz Josef Land Archipelago.

"We plan to organize and open a visitor center on Cape Zhelaniye, the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago - it will be the park’s first visitor center on Novaya Zemlya," he said. "This year, we’ve seen very many tourists wanted to visit Cape Zhelaniye."

Cape Zhelaniye is on the archipelago’s Severny Island. In 1596, Holland’s traveler Willem Barents named the cape Hoeck der Begeerte, which means "desirable cape," meaning the cape, which sailors desired to reach. The cape is a border between the Barents and the Kara seas. "The border is obvious - waters differ in color," the director, said, adding many birds prefer to make nests there.

In 1931, the Soviet Union opened a marine hydro-meteorology station there, and in 1997 it was suspended, and a new automatic station was organized there in 2004. Since 2011, the cape is home for the national park’s field base. The station has been cleaned. The new visitor center will be organized in a building of the former meteorology station. "It’s a warehouse - a wooden building, of a square form, it used to be a shelter for tractors," the national park’s representative said. "It is clean now and partially restored, we shall continue to restore it and to make insulation there."

The building will host an exposition about Novaya Zemlya and Cape Zhelanie, as well as a post office. "We want to open there a post office, like we’ve done in Franz Josef Land’s Tikhaya Bay. Presently, tourists do not have an option to mail postcards from Novaya Zemlya," he said, stressing the post office on Franz Josef Land is Russia’s northernmost facility of the kind.

New cruises

The national park expects many visitors in summer, 2020. In the past, two-three cruise vessels called on the archipelago, bringing about 200 visitors. This year (2020), as many as eight calls are planned. "Novaya Zemlya has attracted the Quark Expeditions Company, they’ve included it into their plans. For the first time, we shall have two cruises from Murmansk to Novaya Zemlya, then to Franz Josef Land and back to Murmansk onboard the Ocean Adventurer. Also, on Novaya Zemlya will call Endurance’s National Geographic, which will sail along the Northern Sea Route from Providence Bay to Murmansk and back. The Akademik Shokalsky, the Professor Molchanov, and the Silver Explorer will also come," the director said.

About 600-700 tourists may visit Novaya Zemlya’s north, he added.

"We expect that vessels will come to us 19 times, and those would be the vessels, which haven’t been here - the Endurance, the National Geographic, the Greg Mortimer. Those are new vessels, built for the Arctic and Antarctic, and their maiden cruises would be to Franz Josef Land, a part of the Russian Arctic National Park," he said.

Record-high 1,306 tourists visited the national park in 2019. The forecast for 2020 is 2,000 visitors. Traditionally, five cruises on board the 50 Let Pobedy nuclear-powered icebreaker, going to the North Pole, will call on Franz Josef Land. The Sea Spirit will serve three cruises Spitsbergen - Franz Josef Land - Spitsbergen.


Practically every cruise vessel, going to the national park, visits Tikhaya Bay on the Hooker Island (Franz Josef Land). In summer, 2020, the park’s specialists will work on an exposition in the plane hangar on the island. It is the only survived wooden hangar in the Arctic. It was built in 1932. Over two previous years, the hangar underwent restoration, and this work will continue in the coming summer.

A key task is to make water drainage bypassing the building’s basement. "We shall make the drainage system, and in fact this way we shall reconstruct the system, which used to be there. Over decades, the system was breaking down, and certain parts are missing for good. We can only guess where it used to be and how it used to work, but anyway, we shall direct water away from the hangar and neighboring houses," the park’s director said.

"The hangar, with its reconstructed roof and completed insulation, is much darker than the other houses nearby. We shall cover it with wooden boards, and it would fit the landscape fine," he continued. "Interestingly, wooden materials in the Arctic do not ruin, they do not get rotten. So, the hangar will look the way it used to look in the very beginning." Works on the hangar continue jointly with the Arctic Museum-Exhibition Center (St. Petersburg). The exposition will open in 2021.

Another project for restoration experts and architects on Franz Josef Land is the Eira Lodge (also known as Camp Eira) on the Bell Island. The Eira Lodge is the first building, which appeared on Franz Josef Land. In 1881, an expedition, led by English yachtsman and explorer Benjamin Leigh Smith, built the house on the Bell Island. In 2019, specialists inspected the house. "This year, we expect a project, which will specify how to restore the house," the park’s director said. A group of architects will work on the island for a few days, he added.

New base on Novaya Zemlya

According to the director, the national park plans to organize a new research base on Novaya Zemlya. "We have bought a system of three cabins," he said, explaining the base should be located conveniently, so that it could be accessed both by a boat and by a quad bike. Scientists could be accommodated there to work independently from the main base.

Novaya Zemlya is less studied from the side facing the Kara Sea, and thus the new base will be organized there. The biggest obstacle on the way to that part of the island is that when traveling by land, people have to cross the Grishina Shara River. "It is a mountainous river, which comes from the ice, and it is known for its canyons, very deep canyons, and the way we typically cross such rivers in estuaries, where they are shallow and spread widely, may not work here," he said. "Water may get into the bike, and it will "choke". We’ll have to think of other options - a pontoon, a bridge, or some other method to increase buoyancy."

The cabins will be delivered to Novaya Zemlya in beginning of the field season, that is in May or June, by the Mikhail Somov vessel. It will be impossible to unload the cabins without a helicopter, the national park’s director said.