Parks Beyond Borders: Icelandic National Park Rangers and Partners Train in United States; Wales' Brecon Beacons Gets Dark Sky Designation

Olympic National Park Deputy Superintendent Todd Suess (second from right) talks with Icelandic park rangers and their park partners during a special training in early March 2013 at Olympic National Park. The Icelanders are (from left) Regína Hreinsdóttir, Kristbjorg Hjaltadottir, Sveinn Rúnar Traustason, Hjörleifur Finnsson and Berglind Sigmundsdóttir. Bottom photo, a hiker stands on a peak in the Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales. Top photo by NPS, bottom photo by Randy Johnson.

Rangers from the Icelandic National Park Service and partners just finished a two-week visit to the United States, learning about American-style national park management, development and conservation at national parks in Washington and Oregon.

Hjörleifur Finnsson, a park manager at Vatnajokull National Park, said he discovered that he shared a lot of common ground with his new American acquaintances on the topic of park management. “It’s astonishing,” he said, “given the big differences between the two countries”—one of which is that tiny Iceland has three national parks compared with 398 in the United States. Finnsson said, he found “great value in comparing policy, methods and practical solutions ...”

“For us Icelanders,” said Finnsson, “it is so interesting to meet up with a tradition of almost 150 years of nature conservation when the roots of our own lead back about 40 years. For Iceland, which is starting to develop professionalism regarding national parks and nature conservation, there are endless lessons to be drawn from the American tradition.”

National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said, “National parks are America’s best idea and it’s an idea we are happy to share with other countries, like Iceland. I’ve worked in international conservation and park managers face similar problems the world over.”

Finnsson and his colleagues are the second group of Icelanders visiting; the first was based at the National Park Service’s Stephen Mather Training Center in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., last fall.

The training fellows include three rangers from Thingvellir National Park near the capital of Reykjavik and seven from the vast Vatnajokull National Park in eastern Iceland. Other fellows represent a mixture of agencies. The Icelanders’ experiences are in part aimed at helping as they further develop Vatnajokuyll National Park and improve Thingvellir and Snaefellsjokull national parks.

“Icelandic national park staff do a great job managing their parks,” said Linda Bennett of the National Park Service Office of International Affairs. “They are generalists, much like American NPS rangers were in the past, and are extremely resourceful. The Icelanders also have much to teach us about promoting our World Heritage sites. It is a major feature in their tourism management.”

The Icelandic National Park Training Program was launched through a joint program that included the Friends of the Smokies. The Friends had previously consulted with park supporters in Iceland on the creation of the Friends of Vatnajokull National Park. The Friends of the Smokies raises funds and provides volunteer support to help preserve and protect Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Other supporters of the international visit for the Icelandic rangers were the Alcoa Foundation, the American-Scandinavian Foundation and Friends of the Smokies.

Wales' Brecon Beacons Park Wins Dark Sky Designation

The isolated, iconic Brecon Beacon mountain range in Wales has become only the fifth location on the planet to be granted “international status to protect it from light pollution,” says an article in The Guardian.

The paper said the Beacons won the status of "international dark sky reserve" from the International Dark-Sky Association.

The site, says The Guardian, joins Mont Mégantic in Quebec, Exmoor national park in Devon, Aoraki Mackenzie in New Zealand and the NamibRand nature reserve in Namibia. Galloway Forest Park in Scotland is an "international dark sky park."