Deep North Episode 39: In the Ranger’s Realm

park ranger látrabjarg

What does a ranger do, exactly? According to the tan and charmingly scruffy specimen sitting opposite me at a cafe in the city centre, just back from the mountains, the title is self-explanatory. “It’s a job in environment protection. That’s what the Icelandic word for ranger, landvörður, means. We’re protecting the land; we’re its guardians.” Rangers safeguard Iceland’s fragile nature and the people who visit its remote fishing villages, tourist attractions, and mountainous wilderness. While their quotidian duties involve picking up trash, maintaining trails, and having a sharp word or two with travellers who stray off them, a ranger’s work is so much more. They have to be prepared for every eventuality and able to respond to all situations that arise far from the city limits. These are the people who take it upon themselves to ensure Iceland’s virtually untouched nature stays that way.

Read the story.

New National Park Centre Opened at Hellissandur

national park snæfellsjökull

The Environment Agency of Iceland and Snæfellsjökull National Park have opened a new visitor centre by Hellissandur.

Hellissandur is a historical fishing village on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Home to Snæfellsjökull glacier, the region is also one of Iceland’s three national parks. Hellissandur has grown in recent years due to tourism, as the village sits just outside the northern entrance to Snæfellsjökull National Park.

Snæfellsjökull National Park Expanded on 20th Anniversary

The new centre was opened this Friday, March 24, in a ceremony presided over by Minister of Environment, Energy, and Climate Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson.

national park snæfellsjökull
Umhverfisstofnun – Environment Agency of Iceland

The new visitor centre was designed by the architecture firm Arkís. It is divided into three sections with different views of the surrounding landscape.

Snæfellsjökull National Park was founded in 2001.

 

In the Rangers’ Realm

iceland parks

What does a ranger do, exactly? According to the tan and charmingly scruffy specimen sitting opposite me at a cafe in the city centre, just back from the mountains, the title is self-explanatory. “It’s a job in environment protection. That’s what the Icelandic word for ranger, landvörður, means. We’re protecting the land; we’re its guardians.” Rangers safeguard Iceland’s fragile nature and the people who visit its remote fishing villages, tourist attractions, and mountainous wilderness. While their quotidian duties involve picking up trash, maintaining trails, and having a sharp word or two with travellers who stray off them, a ranger’s work is so much more. They have to be prepared for every eventuality and able to respond to all situations that arise far from the city limits. These are the people who take it upon themselves to ensure Iceland’s virtually untouched nature stays that way.

icelandic parks

THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED: THE WESTFJORDS

Dagur Jónsson drives a white pickup emblazoned with the Environment Agency’s logo. It’s probably the least practical colour for a ranger’s vehicle, but at the end of the day, any colour would end up covered in a thick brown layer of dust and mud from the winding roads of the Westfjords. We climb into the pickup to find out what a ranger does in a day. “I have to stop at Dynjandi first, but afterwards, we can pretty much go where we want,” he says.

Born this way

Even in summer, the roads in the Westfjords require careful driving. Still, you don’t need a 4×4 to get to the region’s most popular attractions, like the layered steps of the Dynjandi waterfall. On the way there, Dagur points out notable trails and rivers. An avid angler and hunter, he appreciates the area’s natural beauty – but also its bounty. “The worst insult the locals can imagine is for me to be an environmentalist from Reykjavík who wants to keep this place frozen in time. But I grew up in The Westman Islands, hunting and fishing.”

A printer by trade, Dagur noticed that there were fewer and fewer jobs in his profession. He started looking for something else to do and settled on studying systems analysis. “I hated it. Still finished the course, though,” he says as the pickup weaves its way up the hill. He’d always been an outdoorsy type: he spent decades with his local search-and-rescue squad besides hiking, biking, fishing, and hunting every summer. Faced with the prospect of looking for a job in a field he actively disliked, it was a major relief when he ran into an old friend who suggested he become a ranger instead. “I applied to work at Látrabjarg, and here I am, four years later.”

“THEY ALL SAY THE SAME THING,” HE LAMENTS AS HE RETURNS, THE RUNNERS LOOKING SUITABLY CHASTENED. “THEY SAY: ‘IT’S JUST SO BEAUTIFUL,’ AS IF THAT’S A REASON TO DAMAGE IT.”

iceland nature

Keep off the grass

Rangers’ official duties include taking care of facilities, picking up trash at the most visited destinations, and guiding travellers on scheduled hikes. That’s only a fraction of what they do, however: a lot of their time is spent dealing with whatever situations may arise on location, such as making sure people aren’t endangering themselves or the environment. The picturesque Dynjandi waterfall is a favourite for travel photoshoots, and many visitors cross the ropes intended to protect the delicate flora. When a running team in full costume charges off the path, trampling rocks and moss alike on a quest to capture that perfect press photo, Dagur puts a stop to it. “They all say the same thing,” he laments as he returns, the runners looking suitably chastened. “They say: ‘It’s just so beautiful,’ as if that’s a reason to damage it.”

Cliffhanger

Not far from Dynjandi, Dagur mentions, there is a ravine filled with fossils and a couple of other waterfalls that all get understandably less attention because of their proximity to the steps of gushing water that make for the perfect photo. (Dynjandi isn’t even really a waterfall, Dagur chimes in. It’s just a stream flowing down a hill.)

When asked if he has a favourite location in his territory, Dagur thinks for a while. “It’s got to be Látrabjarg.” Growing up in the Westman Islands, he learned to descend bird cliffs to collect eggs at a young age. He does so regularly with his searchand-rescue squad on the Reykjanes peninsula but descending the Látrabjarg cliff is a whole other animal. I ask if we could go there, but Dagur rejects the idea. “Maybe if you had mentioned it yesterday. It’s too far to go there today.” My hopes of a trip to the cliff are dashed. Dagur returns to his duties, plucking cigarette butts from the path along the waterfall. “The nicotine pouches are everywhere.”

I wander off for a bit while the photographer documents the waterfall, the din drowning out the shrieks of the seabirds that populate every cliff and fjord of the region. A light breeze stirs up the fresh scent of ling. The pink buds have yet to mature into bilberries, so I reach down to pluck a few leaves of mountain sorrel instead. As I savour their tart freshness, Dagur returns, the path now cleared of all foreign objects. We share the view over Arnarfjörður fjord in comfortable silence. “It doesn’t get much better than this,” Dagur finally says. A short moment later, he glances over at me. “So, you really want to see the cliff?”

"IF YOU PUT YOURSELF IN DANGER, IT MEANS THAT OTHERS WILL LIKELY HAVE TO ENDANGER THEMSELVES TO RESCUE YOU."

látrabjarg iceland

People, places, things

A couple of hours and about 125 kilometres later, the white pickup has become a deep shade of brown. The road is not particularly rocky, but it zigzags up and down the sides of the Westfjords’ steep and flat-topped mountains in the most unusual ways. There is limited lowland between the mountains and the sea, and most of it is taken up by pale, yellow beaches, the impossibly clear water lapping at the rocks that hold up the road. Dagur isn’t a local here, but as he spouts anecdotes about the people inhabiting the farms along the way, he could have fooled me. The anecdotes, and the farms, are fewer and fewer as we approach the cliff. We’re almost there when fog starts to settle in. I exchange worried glances with the photographer, both of us silently hoping we haven’t driven all this way only to have the view obscured. Just before we arrive, the air clears, and the immense magnitude of Látrabjarg spreads before our eyes.

“Everyone wants to see the puffins,” Dagur exclaims as we pass a few of the comical, black-and-white birds, calmly perched on the cliff’s edge, not in the least perturbed by us strolling right by them. “These ones are pretty old,” Dagur notes. I ask him how he knows, and he sighs, “Oh, you can tell by the beak.” He rattles off the names of the various seabirds that make their home on the 400-metre-high cliff facing an extraordinary amount of horizon.

Then he halts suddenly, looking up towards land. “Did you hear the fox?” I did not and probably wouldn’t have known if I had. We listen for a while until it starts calling again. “That’s a female fox. You can tell by the way they shriek,” Dagur explains patiently.

At Látrabjarg, one of Dagur’s recurring tasks is talking courage into tourists who’ve managed to drive out to see the cliff but have to be coaxed into driving back up the steep, winding dirt road. A part of a ranger’s duties is keeping the people visiting their territory safe. The Látrabjarg cliff is steep, and the path along the edge has no barriers between visitors and a drop of up to 400 metres. In light of recent news coverage about tourists’ safety in Iceland, I ask about accidents. “There hasn’t been a fatality here since, oh, I don’t know, 2014.”

iceland puffin
"EVERYONE WANTS TO SEE THE PUFFINS"

THE HOT SPOT: THE SOUTH COAST

It’s a few days later, and we’re leaving the city again, this time for the south coast. There’s a little more traffic here: most travellers who venture out of Reykjavík hit the waterfall-dotted south. We’re meeting our next ranger by the lighthouse on Dyrhólaey. Ey means island, but Dyrhólaey is no longer surrounded by water. A lighthouse towers over the surrounding flatness, a bright contrast to the sandy black beaches. The promontory’s cliffs are a lot lower than Látrabjarg, but they are nevertheless home to a plethora of puffins.

Boundaries

“It’s the only bird they want to see,” Guðrún Úlfarsdóttir tells me. The tourists arriving in Dyrhólaey in droves are a different breed to the adventurers and hikers in the Westfjords. “I think the people coming here are the ones who prefer a little more comfort in their travels,” she says delicately. While Dagur racks up the mileage on his pickup, Guðrún’s territory is limited to the hills of Dyrhólaey and the nearby Skógafoss waterfall. It’s a much-visited area, and the rangers on duty must ensure it’s safe and enjoyable.

To the east of Dyrhólaey, a stretch of black beach is cordoned off. “It has the same waves as Reynisfjara, so we make sure no one goes there,” Guðrún tells us. The black beach of Reynisfjara, another popular Instagram spot, has made grim headlines in recent years. While the waves lapping the shore look small, there’s a steep dropoff a few metres out that creates a suction effect that can, and has, claimed lives. There are a plethora of signs at the beach but no rangers. “Reynisfjara isn’t protected. It’s out of our jurisdiction,” Guðrún explains. Rangers can only operate within regions that have been declared nature reserves, and such designations are subject to much bureaucracy and a heavy dose of politics.

iceland parks
"THE ISSUE IS THAT PEOPLE DON'T WANT FENCES IN THEIR PICTURES, SO THEY OFTEN TRY TO CLIMB OVER THEM"

A jack of all trades

While most of her work revolves around talking to visitors and getting them interested in some of the other birds that frequent the rocks, Guðrún has her share of unexpected tasks too. “I spent yesterday lugging building materials into the highlands by helicopter,” she tells me. Today’s travels have her going into town to get oil for the car. A chain fencing off the delicate grass on the promontory is an aesthetically pleasing rust colour, blending in with the surroundings as naturally as possible. “It’s pretty, isn’t it?” Guðrún says. “Only problem with the rust is that it’s not very durable.” She keeps her pockets full of zip ties at all times to mend it.

How far would you go for the perfect picture?

Much of Guðrún’s work revolves around aiding visitors to the area and ensuring they don’t endanger themselves or the region’s birdlife. “During the nesting season in spring, we close off the area at night. It takes a while to make sure no one is up there and divert traffic from here.” Much like Dynjandi or the Látrabjarg cliff, Dyrhólaey is perfect for photography. “We get a lot of bridal shoots here,” Guðrún says. “The issue with that is that they don’t want fences in their pictures, so they often try to climb over them.” On a particularly picturesque spot overlooking the black beach below, however, the fence has been taken down. “We did that on purpose, actually,” Guðrún says. “It’s much safer for people to stand on the edge here than if they try it a little further. The drop here is only two metres or so, not twenty.”

Conditions change over time, making it even more challenging to keep visitors safe. On Dyrhólaey, there is an older path closer to the cliff’s edge. “We’re trying to get the old path grown over,” Guðrún explains. The cliff’s edges are deceptively fragile. It’s only been a few years since a couple died a little further down the beach, the cliff crumbling underneath them as they ventured off the path and one step too close to the edge.

Dyrhólaey is a popular destination all year round, and there’s a ranger here even in winter. This is Guðrún’s summer job: she’s studying geography at the University of Iceland. Before she started the course, she was studying computer science. “I liked the coding part,” she tells me. “The people, the culture, and the prospective jobs were less interesting to me.”

iceland parks

"WE LIVE IN A MAGNIFICENT COUNTRY FILLED WITH INCOMPARABLE NATURAL WONDERS, COMPLETELY DIFFERENT FROM ANYWHERE ELSE ON THE PLANET."

MOUNTAIN MAN: THE HIGHLAND

Guðmundur Björnsson just got back from the Central Highland. He works there for two weeks at a time. The internet is patchy, and the phone signal is weak. Guðmundur spends his days mostly with hikers, hut caretakers, search-and-rescue volunteers, and other rangers. He prefers it that way.

“I used to work as a chef,” Guðmundur tells me. He remembers the exact moment when he had had enough of fine restaurants and exclusive countryside lodges. “I was working as a chef in a fishing lodge when these guides came in. They were ornery and irritated, complaining about the food, the weather, and everything else they could think of. I thought to myself: You get to spend the day out in nature fishing – something people pay astronomical sums to do – and you have the nerve to complain about the weather?’” Two days later, he told his boss he had signed up for a course in adventure guiding and he was quitting. After finishing his studies, Guðmundur realised he wasn’t cut out for working as a guide either. (“Telling the same stories over and over again, repeating the same jokes.”) Finding work as a ranger was a fortuitous coincidence. That was four years ago, and so far, Guðmundur hasn’t looked back.

iceland highlands ranger

Protect and serve

Fjallabak is a 42,000-hectare territory with mountain roads, hiking trails, biking paths, and geothermal areas. Most notably, it’s where you set off for Iceland’s most popular hiking trail, Laugavegur. Protecting nature might be in his job title, but much of his time is spent protecting people from the weather and themselves. “Ninety to ninety-five per cent of the work revolves around information. Gathering information and disseminating it to visitors. We follow the weather forecast, monitor the state of the roads and trails in our territory, and evaluate the danger involved in fording rivers each particular day.”

Information is what many prospective hikers lack. “I’ve often had to turn people back. People who didn’t have the right equipment. In these conditions, cotton kills. If I see a person about to set off for the Laugavegur hiking trail in sweatpants and sneakers, I start hearing warning bells immediately. In Iceland’s mountains, the only dangerous predator is the weather.” Unprepared travellers are not just a danger to themselves, as Guðmundur explains. “If you put yourself in danger, it means that others will likely have to endanger themselves to rescue you.”

"IN ICELAND'S MOUNTAINS, THE ONLY PREDATOR IS THE WEATHER."

Doing the work

In the nature reserve, there are no farmers or local inhabitants. It’s just Guðmundur, another ranger or two on shift, the mountain hut caretakers, the people who run the last-stop grocery store, and the search-and-rescue volunteers stationed there for a week at a time. These are the handful of people tasked with keeping visitors safe. “We’re a tight-knit group. We have to be; we have no one else to rely on.”

There is a lot to do and not a lot of people to do it. “We have to hike the trails, mark them, maintain the paths. We hike five kilometres one way just to put up a ‘closed’ sign so other people don’t go there. We need to get that information, that little sign, out into the snow or the patch of ground where it serves its purpose. It’s physical work, but I love it. Each day might start with a list of tasks, but things always come up. Sometimes you work full speed all day without getting to anything on your list,” Guðmundur says.

Much of the work is shaped by the remoteness and the dearth of people. “You often need to improvise with the resources you have on hand. You might find yourself several kilometres from your supplies in desperate need of a hammer. In those situations, you just have to find a rock that does the job.” Mostly, it’s important to be available, know the area, and ensure everyone is safe. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of stepping out into the water and reaching out your hand to someone too scared to ford a river, just to show them that it isn’t dangerous.”

iceland dýrholaey

For the love of the land

It feels counter-intuitive, but despite the remoteness and isolation, the largest part of the work is communication. It can be frustrating to deal with people who cross the line. “Rangers tend to care deeply for the territory they’re tasked with guarding. We’re working full time all day to protect the environment. When people misbehave in ways that can damage nature, it can be mentally draining. Especially when you’re repeating the same warnings over and over, just with a different weather forecast.”

"SOMETIMES, IT'S YOUR JOB TO STEP OUT INTO THE WATER AND REACH OUT YOUR HAND TO SOMEONE TOO SCARED TO FORD A RIVERM JUST TO SHOW THEM IT ISN'T DANGEROUS."

Guðmundur appreciates the places he’s gotten to experience during his time as a ranger. “It’s a perk of my job, the closeness to the natural beauty, and experiencing it for yourself. I’m not working as a ranger for the money. I enjoy being there. We live in a magnificent country filled with incomparable natural wonders, completely different to anywhere else on the planet. Fjallabak has wondrous geothermal activity and the largest rhyolite formations in the country, which give it amazing colours. And that’s just one spot; there are so many others, I don’t even know where to begin – Fjaðrárgljúfur, Ásbyrgi, Mývatn – they’re all unique.”

Energy and Climate Issues Biggest Stumbling Blocks in Coalition Talks

Iceland President Guðni Th. Jóhannessson and Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir

Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson met yesterday morning to discuss the ongoing coalition talks between the Left-Green Movement, Independence Party, and Progressive Party. The two are set to meet again at the beginning of next week for Katrín to update Guðni on the progress of the talks. Energy and climate issues have been said to be the main stumbling blocks in the negotiations, Vísir reports.

The Left-Greens, Independents, and Progressives formed Iceland’s previous government and managed to hold onto their majority in the September 25 election. For the past four weeks, they have been negotiating a continued coalition, a process all three party leaders have stated would take some time. The negotiations are conducted on the premise that Katrín will continue in the role of Prime Minister, something that a majority of Icelanders support, according to post-election polls.

Two of the key bills the government could not agree on last term concerned constitutional revisions and the formation of a national park in the Central Highland.

Two Major Bills Shelved as Parliament is Adjourned

Iceland’s Parliament was adjourned on Saturday and is not expected to convene again until after the upcoming election on September 25. Two of the government’s major bills for this term, one amending the constitution and the other establishing a Highland National Park, have not been passed. Political Science Professor Ólafur Þ. Harðarson says the lack of progress on the bills must be a blow to Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir.

Formed after the 2017 election, Iceland’s current government is the first three-party coalition to sit an entire term in the country’s history. Led by Katrín’s Left-Green Movement, it contains the right-leaning Progressive Party and Independence Party. When the coalition agreement was signed, Katrín stated its aim was to “bridge the gap between different parties and to work with the parties in opposition.” However, political differences appear to have been too great to reach a consensus on constitutional amendments or highland conservation.

Read More: Proposed Highland National Park

Establishing a national park across Iceland’s highland was one of the aims of the government agreement written by the three parties at the beginning of the term. If passed, the bill would have established one of the largest national parks in the world, covering 30% of the country. Parliamentary debates on the bill were heated, with MPs divided over current and future energy development within the park as well as the role and rights of municipalities bordering the proposed park. 

The government also failed to pass amendments on the constitution, which it began reviewing in a cross-party committee last fall. After the committee could not reach a consensus on the bill it was passed to the Constitutional and Supervisory Committee, where it was in discussion for over four months. The government has been criticised for the bill by activists who point out that the Icelandic nation drafted and voted for a new constitution between 2010 and 2012, which the government never adopted.

Read More: Where is Iceland’s Updated Constitution?

President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson expressed disappointment that the bill on constitutional amendments was not passed. While he did not comment on the changes themselves, the President expressed concern “that the parliament hasn’t succeeded in having a substantive debate on proposals to amend the constitution. I find that worrying.”

Four Visitors at Þingvellir National Park

þingvellir national park

Just four visitors were counted by wardens at Þingvellir National Park on February 18, 2021, according to an article on the park’s official website. On the same day last year, 3,322 visited the popular Almannagjá, a gorge between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.

“Today four tourists visited Þingvellir,” the article reads. “One walked into the fog in Almannagjá and disappeared from sight. Two travellers from France and one from Belgium peeked through the window of Þingvellir Church and had a good chat with the park warden that was on site. They were finishing a four-week trip around Iceland that started with the traditional quarantine. They praised the country and nation and enjoyed travelling around the country and being almost entirely alone on their trip.”

Þingvellir is not only a site with geological significance, it also has historical importance. From 930 AD to 1798, it was the meeting place of Iceland’s Alþingi (parliament). The park lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the mid-Atlantic ridge. From Almannagjá, visitors can also see the largest natural lake in Iceland, Þingvallavatn. Þingvellir was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.

 

Parliament Debated Highland National Park Until Midnight

Heated debate in Iceland’s Parliament lasted until midnight last night, RÚV reports. The topic was a bill proposing a Highland National Park, which if established would be the largest national park in Europe. While some MPs argued the bill went too far in preventing power plant development, others said it made too many concessions at the expense of the environment.

As the fall term draws to a close and 2021 elections approach, the governing coalition is hurrying to introduce and pass some of its most significant bills. Environment Minister Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson introduced the Highlands National Park bill in the chamber yesterday afternoon, calling it a unique opportunity for Althingi to create the largest national park in Europe and Iceland’s largest contribution to nature conservation in the world. Guðmundur asserted that the establishment of the park would strengthen tourism, create public jobs, and support municipalities across the country.

Opposing Views on Energy

MPs had opposing views when it came to the park, particularly on the topic of current and future energy development in the highland. Several power plants are currently within the proposed borders of the park – the bill proposes defining them as “peripheral areas” of the park and that the land they occupy not be protected. Further energy development within the park’s borders would, however, be prohibited.

Read More: Proposed Highland National Park

Independent MP Rósa Björk Brynjólfsdóttir stated that too many power plants were allowed within the park’s borders and the bill had made too many compromises at the expense of the environment. Progressive Party MP Halla Signý Kristjánsdóttir argued, however, that the bill threatened energy security by preventing energy development. The bill would affect existing overhead power lines in the highland, as well as planned underground cables and maintenance of the existing transmission system, she stated.

Criticise Lack of Consultation With Municipalities

Several MPs were critical of what they called a lack of consultation with municipal authorities, particularly those bordering the proposed park. Independence Party MP and former Minister of Transport Jón Gunnarsson stated that the bill was put together too quickly and felt personally that views on the project had diverged rather than come to a consensus.

Iceland’s Highland to Become Europe’s Largest National Park

Iceland’s Central Highland region is set to become the largest national park in Europe, covering around 30% of Iceland. This would also make it the national park that represents the highest percentage of the total area of a country, with over 40,000 km² of the total 103,000 km² surface area of Iceland. A bill outlining the park’s establishment was introduced in Parliament by Iceland’s Minister for the Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson on November 30.

“The Highland holds one of the greatest natural treasures that we Icelanders collectively possess, so it is a logical measure to establish a national park there,” stated Guðmundur Ingi. “It is quite clear that the establishment of the Highland National Park would be a huge advantage for Icelandic tourism and, in fact, for the national economy as a whole, especially during the recovery period after the coronavirus pandemic.” Guðmundur called the proposed park Iceland’s largest contribution to nature conservation, adding that it was important to preserve the highland for future generations.

Park Will Double Protected Areas in Highland

Iceland’s highland region is one of the largest unpopulated regions in Europe and an important breeding ground for birds such as pink-footed geese. Around half of the proposed area of the park is already protected, including under Vatnajökull National Park, Hofsjökull glacier, and popular hiking area Landmannalaugar. The proposed park would unite already protected areas and expand them to create a single, unified Highalnd National Park. The park is to be separated into six administrative regions to be jointly managed by municipal and state authorities. A special board will be established to oversee the park’s management, consisting of local and state representatives as well as other interested parties.

Read More: Proposed Highland National Park

Several power plants are currently within the proposed borders of the park – the bill proposes defining them as “peripheral areas” of the park and that the land they occupy not be protected. The Highland National Park is expected to have a positive impact on rural development, creating sustainable employment opportunities both for municipalities bordering the park as well as across the country.

Guðmundur Ingi oversaw the protection of the popular Geysir area and Goðafoss waterfall earlier this year.

Iceland to Establish National Park in Westfjords

Geirþjófsfjörður

The Westfjords is set to receive a national park that would encompass the popular Dynjandi waterfall, according to a notice from the Environment Ministry. The Environment Agency of Iceland is now working with a task force to establish the park and protect the areas it covers across

Sites included within the planned park are Vatnsfjörður, Surtarbrandsgil, Geirþjófsfjörður, and the land under Dynjandi waterfall as well as the farmstead Hrafnseyri in Arnarfjörður fjord, the birthplace of Iceland’s independence hero Jón Sigurðsson. The park would this include both natural sites and sites of historic importance to Iceland.

“There are few national parks in Iceland, not least considering how magnificent the nature is that can be found here,” stated Environment Minister Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson. “I see great opportunities in establishing a national park in the southern Westfjords, not least for the protection of our nature and culture, but also for opportunities for job creation that attraction entails for the region as a whole, as the area is unique and different from other areas where there are national parks today.”

RARIK, the official energy corporation of Iceland, the previous owner of the land on which Dynjandi waterfall is located, gifted that land to the Icelandic state last September, which was one principal impetus for the establishment of the park.

The Environment Agency is asking the public to suggest names for the national park. Submissions can be entered via their website.

Snæfellsjökull National Park to Be Expanded by 9%

Snæfellsjökull National Park

The Environment Agency of Iceland and the municipality of Snæfellsbær have published a plan for the expansion of Snæfellsjökull National Park in West Iceland. The proposed addition would increase the park’s land area by 9% to 182 square kilometres (70 square miles). “The extension creates even more opportunities for outdoor recreation in the area, not least for locals,” a government notice reads.

Diverse nature and historical artefacts

Snæfellsjökull National Park is located at the tip of the Snæfellsnes peninsula in West Iceland. It was established in 2001 as the first national park in the country located along the coastline. It is the only national park in Iceland that contains fishing artefacts from previous centuries. Of course, the park includes natural attractions as well, such as black and white sand beaches, bird cliffs, lava fields, and the glacier-topped Snæfellsjökull stratovolcano that towers over the park.

The proposed addition is located north of Snæfellsjökull and east of the park’s current borders.

Conservation also has economic benefits

According to Finnish researcher Jukka Siltanen’s findings, Snæfellsjökull National Park is an investment that gives fantastic returns. Siltanen found that the economic impact to cost ratio of the park is 45:1, meaning that the money spent on the park is returned 45-fold into the Icelandic economy.

Interested parties can send in comments about the proposal until June 10 by email to [email protected] or by post to Umhverfisstofnun, Suðurlandsbraut 24, 108 Reykjavík.