New National Park for Europe´s Largest Glacier

MPs agreed on Saturday to the establishment of a national park at the Vatnajökull glacier, which will be the largest in Europe. All political parties agreed on founding the park, which will be called Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður, or Vatnajökull National Park, and should be open by next summer. The new park will be over 15,000 square kilometres and cover 1/8 of Iceland’s total surface area. It will absorb the current Skaftafell National Park and Jökulsárgljúfur National Park.

Rögnvaldur Guðmundsson, a tourism expert, believes the park will further increase the number of tourists to Iceland by 5-7% in 2012 and it will contribute to an increase of over 11 billion kronur in money spent by tourists in Iceland by 2020. The principal activities in the area are walking, glacial tours and skidooing.

The Vatnajökull area is characterised by a combination of Europe´s largest ice cap, glaciers, mountains, active subglacial volcanoes and associated massive jökulhlaups. Many of the current farms around the glacier were first recorded in the Book of Settlements from over 1,000 years ago. The extended genealogies, mentioned even in the Sagas (e.g. the farms of Svinafell, Skaftafell and Breiða in Njal´s Saga), church registers and folklore, provide an unprecedented account of the struggle against climate change, flood, glacial advance and volcanic eruption.

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