Ida-Virumaa is the largest industrial area in Estonia, and the smartest solutions have been found here on how to make former industrial areas serve tourists and offer its guests experiences that cannot be found anywhere else in Estonia.
Kiviõli, Kohtla-Nõmme and Aidu, the so called adventure triangle, which offers the most extreme experiences in Estonia, would not be on the tourists map the way it is, if the semicoke hill, mine and quarry were closed in the usual way. Fortunately, bright ideas were generated in the minds of the locals.
An active holiday mecca
Janek Maar and Madis Olt have spent almost 20 years transforming the old semicoke hill and the town’s old landfill into an adventure center, where top level entertainment is offered in both summer and winter. While other artificial hills have been closed, leveled and landscaped to make them safe for the environment, Kiviõli Adventure Center has become a model of reuse and a mecca for active holiday seekers.
You can go down the Kiviõli hill on skis, snowboards, mountain cars, bicycles or a tube. There you will find the longest rope descent in Estonia, but also a number of not so adrenaline-rich attractions for families with children.
“I am glad that with this pile of ashes we have managed to change the face of Ida-Virumaa,” said Janek Maar, when in 2014 he accepted the title of the best Estonian tourist attraction at “Tourest”. This has not been the last recognition for the developers of Kiviõli Adventure Center, and after a long and painstaking journey, any recognition tastes sweet.
The developers have also been helped by a “friend”, the European Union, without whom the project would probably have remained on paper. “We cannot forget where this center is built: in fact, we operate on top of two landfills – on Kiviõli municipal landfill, and on the old industrial waste landfill. This environment itself is so demanding and complicated that without the support of the European Union, an adventure center would not have been born,” admitted Madis Olt.
Home of water adventures
The closed Aidu oil shale quarry – a place exhausted by mining – is being reborn as a water sports and leisure center with the support of millions of euros. Instead of huge mining machines, leisure service providers have set themselves up.
Adrenaator Grupp, one of the oldest adventure companies in Estonia, which organizes nerve-wracking safari and water trips, and Aidu Veemaa permanently operate in Aidu. With the support of millions of euros, the latter is developing a water sports and leisure center in Aidu, which combines state-of-the-art water sports and diverse leisure opportunities.
Industrial heritage will be used in the creation of Aidu Veemaa, and it will be turned into a unique place for water adventures. You can already navigate the canals there by canoe, raft, dragon boat, kayak or a motor boat.
“Aidu career has been a playground for manly men, explosions and big machines. Now, with its ditches, mountains and ramparts, light gray vertical limestone embankments and over 30 kilometers of mystical bluish-green clear water filled canals, it offers adventurous opportunities for hiking. The whole forest that grows on the backwaters adds both beauty and excitement”, describes Ingrid Kuligina, the head of Alutaguse hiking club, who is there as a tour guide for groups.
A mining company has been a partner in the development of Aidu quarry into a tourist attraction. Eesti Energia has contributed to the construction of the water sports center not only by constructing the draft of the rowing canal and planning the landscape, but also financially.
The Mining Museum proved to be a challenge
The first challenge in reusing old industry was the Kohtla mine, which was closed in 2001. It could have been done as it was done many times before: the miner could have stopped the pumps and filled the tunnels with water. This way people could never have stepped in there again.
Tens of thousands of tourists visit the old mining tunnels every year, thanks to the determination of the rural municipality authorities, The real attractions of the mining museum in Kohtla-Nõmme are working mining machines. You can ride on an underground mining train and listen to colorful tales from guides who are former mine employees themselves.
Next, the county awaits the completion of the textile world of Kreenholm. The old cotton warehouse complex should become a fascinating tourist attraction, opening up on textile related topics and history of the manufactory. It should give an overview of Kreenholm’s huge production through the ages. At the same time, the textile center gives another push to bring the closed Kreenholm manufactory back to life.
One reuse project is still pending in Ida-Virumaa. If an agro park can be established in the vicinity of the Auvere power plant and in the mined areas of the Narva quarry, then in ten years time we can offer tomatoes and cucumbers that are grown using carbon dioxide from electricity production, hot water from power plants and network charge free electricity.
Teet Kuusmik, the head of the Ida-Virumaa industrial areas foundation, dreams that the agro park will become a real circular economy project, where birds, algae and fish are raised in addition to plants in low-value areas left behind by the oil shale sector.
Journalist for “Põhjarannik” newspaper