Snæfellsnes Regional Park was established on 4 April 2014. Here is a brief description of the background:
Snæfellsnes, rich in natural and cultural assets
Snæfellsnes is an 80 km long peninsula, 10-20 km wide, with the western tip adorned by the mystical Snæfellsjökull glacier and volcano, 1,446 m high. A mountain ridge runs the length of the peninsula with low lying farmlands on each side. The population of 3,900 lives in 5 fishing villages and on farms, belonging to 5 municipalities. Snæfellsjökull National Park was established in 2001, covering 170 km2 around the glacier. The waters around the peninsula, especially in Breiðafjörður bay on its northern side, are bountiful with diverse ecosystems and sources of food that have sustained the population throughout its history. Breiðafjörður and its ecosystem is preserved by law. Its inner part is characterized by countless little islands and strong tidal currents.
Like in many rural communities all over the world, the population in Snæfellsnes has been dwindling as young people are drawn to the more diverse employment opportunities of urban areas. Recent improvements in transportation infrastructure have had a great influence on the communities in Snæfellsnes as it now only takes about two hours to get from the center of the peninsula to the Reykjavík capital area. On the downside, this has meant some reduction in local service offerings with stronger competition from services offered in the capital. The upside from rapidly growing tourism in Iceland, where Snæfellsnes could offer daytrips with uniquely diverse experiences, largely remains to be realized.
Volumes could be written about the natural and cultural assets of Snæfellsnes but in short, these are mostly based on uniquely diverse geology, folklore, sagas, ecology and food.
The population of Snæfellsnes is conscious of the richness of its natural surroundings and cultural heritage. Therefore, the communities have jointly been working on their environmental performance, resulting in an “Earth check” certification. This experience, further emphasized by globally increasing enthusiasm for sustainability, social responsibility and food traceability provides good encouragement for further steps.
The regional park as an economic development framework
To meet the challenges described above and to unlock the area’s potential, the establishment of a regional park for Snæfellsnes has been identified as a key strategy.
The efforts in Snæfellsnes are based on extensive experience accumulated in the last few decades in continental Europe, the United Kingdom and Norway. In these countries, regional parks have demonstrated their effectiveness in stimulating economic growth based on local assets and characteristics in nature and culture. While the legal framework differs between countries and each park obviously presents itself in a unique way, they all share the basic approach of pooling local resources to identify and register the local assets in order to create synergies and define the message with which the area is portrayed.
In particular, the following regional parks have been used as models:
- Forest of Bowland, UK
- Sherwood, UK
- Vercors, France
- Valdres, Norway
- Nærøyfjorden, Norway
- Entlebuch, Switzerland
- Gantrisch, Switzerland
Geographically, Snæfellsnes is very suitable for the regional park model. It is geographically distinct with numerous unique features and a strong sense of place. While earlier government top-down efforts at economic development have often proved frustrating, the grass-roots level approach inherent in the regional park model is seen as the key to success. The methodology is clear, while accommodating to each park’s individual characteristics and can easily be linked with major policy efforts, such as the European Landscape Convention.
Plans for Snæfellsnes Regional Park
Work on the formulation of Snæfellsnes Regional Park was started in February 2011 with a feasibility study. This included original presentations of the RP concept to local authorities and elected representatives. This was later extended to major players in the local economy and various organizations. Also, a comprehensive project plan was developed along with a survey of possible funding sources. This phase was concluded in September 2011 and on 4 April 2014 Snæfellsnes Regional Park was established. In this development phase, these were the main tasks:
- Formulation of an agreement
- Study of foreign precedents
- Landscape character assessment
- Sense of Place studies
- Development and implementation of a regional plan
- Toolkit / logo / website
- Management and marketing plans
- Establisment of daily operations (Staff/HQ/charter)
- Funding applications
The governing bodies have a clear mandate from the community. This includes a top ranking Founder’s Council, under which a Steering Group oversees the project progress and delegates work to Working Groups. Consultants assisted with landscape character assessment, sense of place analyses, regional plan development and project management. All this is supported by broad cooperation of all parties involved and public participation to ensure buy-in and motivation.
The parties to Snæfellsnes Regional Park see it as an important strategy that can lead to:
- More fertile ground for local entrepreneurs in all sectors
- More opportunities, especially for young people
- Accessible resources for interpretation, marketing and branding
- Stronger self image of the local communities
- Greater awareness of local assets
- Healthier local economy with sustainable demography