What is a Geopark Anyway?
More than meets the eye
We keep seeing this word pop up in the media nowadays, but who knows what it really means? In the Greek language, geo means earth. From this root we get words like geography (the study of the earth and its surface features), geometry (measurement of the earth) and terms like geopolitics, which refers to the relationship between politics and geography. But a geopark as a concept, encompasses much more than just a vast tract of protected land, however magnificent, set aside for our enjoyment and however simplistic the word may sound at first glance. Here is the official UNESCO definition of the word geopark: A territory encompassing one or more sites of scientific importance, not only for geological reasons but also by virtue of its archaeological, ecological or cultural value.
A bit of history
The origins of the geopark concept date back to the late 1960’s, when a group of scientists recognised the need for safeguarding the world’s natural resources. Over the years, momentum slowly began to grow and by 1991, delegates from over 30 countries met in France to sign the International Declaration of the Rights of the Memory of the Earth, a document that advocates international consideration of the protection of geological heritage. In 1997, two geologists, a Frenchman and a Greek, came up with the idea of forming a network of geoparks across Europe. The new concept began to catch on and in 2000, the European Geopark Network was formally created. Now with 50 members in 19 European countries, the movement continues to add more members to the growing geopark network every year.
A Worldwide Phenomenon
As other countries of the world became interested in forming their own geoparks, the European Geopark Network began discussing the possibility of forming a global network of geoparks with UNESCO, modelled on the long-established UNESCO World Heritage Site network. This led to the creation of the Global Geoparks Network in 2004, which today boasts 90 members in 26 countries around the world, with China leading the way with 26 geoparks.
Katla Geopark is Iceland’s first and only Geopark, becoming a member of the European Geopark Network in 2011. It is located in the southern part of Iceland and follows the borders of three municipalities, Skaftárhreppur, Mýrdalshreppur and Rangárþing-eystra. Its name originates from one of the best known volcanoes in the area, Katla, which lies under the Mýrdalsjökull Icecap. The mission of the Katla Geopark is to enhance co-operation between all three municipalities with the aim of promoting sustainable development within the territory in the field of geotourism together with the preservation of natural and cultural values. Katla Geopark is, in every sense, the land of fire and ice, with its towering glaciers and active volcanoes. These forces are constantly shaping the land and influenced where people settled. Through the centuries, man and nature have affected the region’s history. However, there are other amazing landscapes in the area; mountains, lakes, black sandy beaches, green pastures and meadows, powerful glacial rivers, beautiful waterfalls and vast lava fields. Various options for accommodation are available in the Katla Geopark. Everyone should be able to find accommodation to their taste from hotels, hostels, guesthouses and farm holidays, to camping grounds, summer cabins, mountain lodges or community halls. Restaurants and cafés offer gastronomic pleasures using local products which have appeared increasingly on menus in the last few years. Katla Geopark offers great opportunities for activities and adventures—ice climbing and glacier walking, hiking, caving, horse-riding, sightseeing, angling, jeep safaris, quad bike tours, snowmobile tours and golf. Katla Geopark is accessible all year round; each season has its own magical charm in this spectacular natural paradise.
The Park of the Future
The plans for the next few years for Katla Geopark involve a holistic methodology which includes different activities, such as creating new opportunities for business development, such as encouraging local food production of culinary interest for visitors; improving the visitor infrastructure and facilities in the Katla Geopark; providing educational material and services for tourists and students; carrying out targeted marketing activities to promote the area as an all year round tourist attraction and to provide specific information for geo-tourists.
Unuque Iceland – Katla Geopark
See video here