The eruption occurred on private land, about a two-hour walk from the nearest road. It goes without saying that there were neither toilets on the site nor a parking space, a minimum infrastructure that had to be provided to preserve the surrounding environment. In May 2021, after clearing unpaved lots and installing port-a-potties at the trailhead, the landowners instituted a parking fee of ISK 1,000, saying the proceeds would go towards building infrastructure in the region. The government has also agreed to contribute financially to the construction of the necessary services on the site. Tensions mounted, however, when the owners of the lot announced they would be willing to sell the property – and the brand new volcano – at the right price. Government officials said they would protect public access to the site and that investing public funds was out of the question if new owners planned to operate the site for profit.
Eruptions pose enormous planning challenges for landowners and authorities: they are difficult to predict, attract large numbers of people, involve significant hazard, and are constantly changing the very landscape around them. The Fagradalsfjall eruption hiking trails, for example, were regularly closed or modified because they were cut by lava. The eruption stopped in September 2021 and the number of visitors dwindled to a trickle. All site development plans have been halted.
Lack of policy?
If there’s anything the stories above show, it’s that the Icelandic government lacks a cohesive policy when it comes to entry fees, access and funding the necessary infrastructure at the sites. popular tourist. Decisions seem to be made on a case-by-case basis, and are largely reactionary: infrastructure is not created in anticipation of increased traffic, but only when that traffic already exceeds the boundaries of the site in question.
The issues that affect the operation of privately owned tourist sites relate to broader issues related to land ownership in Iceland in general. In recent years, such discussions have centered on property consolidation, for example, which would give wealthy individuals disproportionate control over natural resources in Iceland. Government policy may need to be clarified regarding the responsibilities of landowners, particularly with respect to natural resources or natural wonders located on their property.
While Icelanders and the Icelandic authorities feel that most, if not all, natural sites should remain free and accessible to all, they are also not opposed to the imposition of fees in exchange for services, particularly if the funds collected are intended for the conservation of nature and the necessary infrastructures. This type of administration has been successful at sites like Víðgelmir Cave, where private owners have both increased access to the site and ensured its proper conservation. The fees don’t seem to deter foreign tourists or locals from visiting the sites: and probably seem minor compared to the cost of their accommodation, dinner or rental car. In fact, travelers often seem happy to help protect the areas they visit.