The National park in North and East Greenland

Extracted from the booklet “The Worlds Greatest National Park”  and the book “Frozen Horizons “ , Attuarkiorfik , 1995.

Both by Ivars Silis , author

Throughout the sixties the vision of laying out the uninhabited Northeast Greenland as a  natural park matured in the minds of a circle of Danish and Greenlandic researchers , officials and politicians .
The National Park in North and East Greenland , the largest in the world , was laid out in 1974 by the Danish parliament or Folketing on the recommandation of the Greenland National Council , predecessor to the Home Rule Parliament .
The National Park was extended westwards in 1988 and today covers 972,000 km2 . Most in inland ice , the rest a composite fjord landscape . Towards the Arctic Ocean and the Greenland Sea the border runs three nautical miles off the baseline , i.e. the line connecting the extreme points of the coast .
The southernmost point of the Park is located north of the Polar Circle in the Scoresby Sound fjord complex at 71’ north latitude , its northernmost tip at 84’ north on an island named after Odaaq , a Polar Eskimo . The Park extends 1,400 km as the crow flies and borders on traditional hunting communities : Scoresby Sound in East Greenland and Thule in Northwest Greenland .


Even if North-East Greenland has been uninhabited for quite some time , recent , detailed maps bristle with geographical place names .  A highly cosmopolitan lot : Kaiser Franz Joseph Fjord , Kap Sussi , Peary Land , île de France , Teufelkap , Påskenæsset….but it is common to them all that they tell the history of Discovery. Hailing the pioneers , sponsors and royal protectors , they give expression to privation , nostalgia and dreams , all according to the national cultural background , the situation and the disposition of the individual traveller .
In 1822 , William Scoresby , the Scottish whaler , was the first European to set his sea boot on the rocks of North-East Greenland. In his wake followed other skippers and even later – towards the turn of the century – a number of ambitious explorers .
With sailing ships and sledges drawn by sailors or dogs , they forced their way ever farther northwards , into unknown territory .
Ships were crushed by the ice and men succumbed to hunger and exposure on this road of suffering lined with simple crosses and cairns .
But long before that time each bay , each foreland must have carried very different names of purely Eskimo origin . Here and there all along the coast you come across simple relics of the past : tent rings and ruins of winter houses from Eskimo hunting cultures long extinct .
The unrelenting lifetime work of Danish archaeologist Eigil Knuth is the core of our present knowledge of the landmarks of Eskimo migrations , coming in waves from Canada. Already 4,500 years ago the first hunters crossed the narrow Robeson channel to North Greenland and followed the “musk ox road” eastwards , spreading down the East Coast . Centuries later , however , the climate changed , life conditions changed radically , the people died out and the country was left uninhabited till a new migration wave  gained a foothold . These were highly specialized Stone Age cultures , impressive testimony as to man’s ability to adapt to his surroundings .
In the year after the visit from Scoresby , the English Captain Clavering in 1823 met a group of Eskimos on the southern side of an island which was later named after him . But when , most inconsiderately , he demonstrated the fire power of a gun , the Eskimos took to the mountains . This was the first and the last time that Europeans were to meet the indigenous people of this coast . Very probably this incident made an end of Eskimo settlement in this area . At any rate the country was empty of people when the next expedition arrived in 1869 .
In 1892 , the American Naval Commander Robert Peary established the fact that Greenland is an island . This had not been known before . And 15 years later , in 1907, a sledge team of three from the Denmark expedition completed the mapping of Greenland in the unexplored north-eastern corner of the country . An achievement which was to cost them their lives . The following year a search party found the dead body of the Greenlander Jørgen Brønlund along with Brønlund’s diary . The last sentences written with frozen fingers and deal with the fate of his friends . A moving document , but with contents that may not be quite unambiguous . This has led to many subtle interpretations and quite a few search parties and so-called memorial expeditions .
Hardly had the snow covered up the pioneer sledge tracks when a handful of Danish and Norwegian trappers followed . However , the partly state-subsidized trapping companies soon started quarrelling about hunting grounds and the legal right to North-East Greenland . The case was brought before the Hague Court . Judgment , delivered in 1933 , went against Norway : Denmark was awarded right of sovereignty to all Greenland .
Apart from an unvoluntary break during World War II , the trappers went on catching white fox and polar bear right down to the fifties . Today a few wooden shacks , most of them shattered by storm and prowling bears , are the sole remnants of the trappers’ meagre livelihood.
But in the meantime a new era had also made its way into NorthEast Greenland . The pioneers of the age of discovery had long since been replaced by specialists on modern research expeditions . Systematic planning and modern technology replaced danger and adventure . A development closely connected with the soaring flight of airborne traffic in the thirties .



Back to Front Page