Landowners at the natural pool Hrunalaug in South Iceland are overwhelmed by the large number of tourists that flock to the pool every day. The visitors’ conduct is often poor and the land has started to show signs of irreparable damage, visir.is reports.
Eiríkur Steindórsson, the owner of the land, says that tourism had increased steadily since the pool ended up in a travel guide about five years ago. Now there is hardly any guidebook on Iceland in circulation that does not mention the pool.
This year the pool has been more popular than ever with travelers, and about 200 of them visit it every day.
The land that Hrunalaug belongs to has been in the Eiríkur’s family for generations, and his grandfather stacked the rocks that make up the upper level of the pool over a hundred years ago. Eiríkur was appalled when he noticed that guests had removed rocks from the pool walls. “That’s what I thought was the worst. They were trying to build a dam of some sort,” Eiríkur said in an interview with visir.is.
Eiríkur and his daughter Helena know of tour companies that sell guided bus tours to Hrunalaug. The family has never charged for admission, but regularly goes out to the pool to clean up trash left behind by visitors and attend to the maintenance of the area. “Sometimes you come here and it’s very messy and unsanitary. That’s very saddening,” Helena said.
Eiríkur and Helena both agree that the pool and the land surrounding it cannot handle this level of use. “There are no paths, no toilets, no changing rooms, nothing. The place cannot support this high level of use,” Helena stressed.
“Of course we want people to enjoy what nature has to offer and we are incredibly proud of this place. This is just too much, we ourselves can’t even have our turn using it. We are considering our options, whether we expand and start operating as a business, or whether we simply close off the land,” Helena added.
In the meantime the family wants to point out to potential visitors nearby pools which are equipped to welcome visitors; the swimming pool at Flúðir and the old pool at Hvammur, a recently renovated natural pool.
Sigurður Jónsson, a member of the town council and zoning committee at Ölfuss, also in South Iceland, has said that traffic through a popular path in Reykjadalur might be limited due to the damage inflicted on it by large swaths of travelers, ruv.is reports.
At the center of the valley the warm Hengladalsá river runs, and many travelers use the opportunity to bathe in it, which adds to the popularity of the trail. Socks, underwear and swimwear can be found around the bathing area, left there by their careless owners, long-gone themselves.
The trail itself is so trampled that to traverse it now involves wading through up to a foot of mud. According to Sigurður, renovations are planned but until then traffic must be limited in order to preserve the area.
There has been much debate in Iceland about introducing a fee at popular tourist spots, or a nature pass of some sort, but no action has been taken as of yet. Earlier this month an injunction was issued on the landowners at Reykjahlíð who had been collecting fees at popular tourist areas within their jurisdiction, the hot springs near Námuskarð and the Leirhnjúkur-Krafla caldera.
The landowner’s association has criticized the injunction, citing the dangers of the areas and the unsanitary circumstances created by a high volume of tourists with no one taking care of maintenance.