Leaders of a new national park in Iceland are visiting their counterparts in the United States this month, including visits to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
In 2008, the Icelandic government officially established the largest national park in all of Europe, Vatnajokull National Park. Located in eastern Iceland, the park includes Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajokull, Europe’s largest waterfall, Dettifoss, and tremendous volcanic and geological resources. At more than 5,000 square miles in size and covering around 13 percent of the entire country of Iceland, Vatnajokull National Park is more than six times bigger than Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which covers approximately 800 square miles.
The group from Iceland includes Thordur Olafsson, manager of Vatnajokull National Park, and Kristbjorg Hjaltadottir, Managing Director of Friends of Vatnajokull, a group modeled after similar park support groups in the United States, like Friends of the Smokies. Their trip this month, sponsored in part by Icelandair, includes visits with park officials and park partners in Yosemite National Park in California, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
“Vatnajokull and the Smokies are different in many ways,” said George Ivey, a fundraising consultant who has assisted the friends groups in both parks. “However, they share many common interests, including support for educational programs, scientific research, recreation, volunteer programs, and park philanthropy. We see a lot of potential for the two parks and the two friends groups to learn from each other over time.”
“We’ve really enjoyed getting to know the park officials and park supporters from Iceland,” said Jim Hart, President of Friends of the Smokies. “We may serve as a model for others seeking to create a successful friends group, but we also benefit from seeing new approaches and new ideas from Iceland and elsewhere. It’s a great opportunity for all of us.”
The Icelanders will conclude their trip to the United States in Washington, DC, with meetings with National Park Service officials and several national non-profit park groups, as well as a reception hosted by the Icelandic embassy.