Friday, June 29, 2012

Smoky Mountains Exploring Sister Park Relationship with New Icelandic Park

The Alcoa Foundation has just announced that it is providing grants to Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and The American-Scandinavian Foundation (ASF) to launch a two-year Icelandic National Parks Training Program, which helps promote and protect national parks and reserves throughout Iceland. The program is designed to develop the capacity of Icelanders working on the development, management, and conservation of Iceland’s national parks—both park staff and employees of partner organizations. Fourteen Icelanders have been selected to participate in two study programs; both will be held in the United States.

The fourteen training fellows will receive classroom instruction on topics such as managing natural resources and building partnerships, while also observing and interacting with staff at several national parks in the United States. They will return with management skills and peer networks for conservation and park development. The fall 2012 training session will be held near Washington, D.C., and the spring 2013 session will be held in Washington State and Oregon.

Alcoa Foundation is funding the program through grants of $40,000 to Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and $112,000 to ASF. Friends of the Smokies raises funds and provides volunteer support to help preserve and protect Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Friends of the Smokies has previously consulted on the creation of the Friends of Vatnajokull group, and the two national parks are considering a possible sister park arrangement to guide future interaction.

ASF is a publicly supported nonprofit organization that promotes international understanding through educational and cultural exchange between the United States and the five Nordic countries. Other key program partners include the U.S. National Park Service Office of International Affairs and the Association of Partners for Public Lands.

The fourteen Icelanders selected for the training include eight park rangers from Iceland’s national parks—two from Thingvellir near the capital of Reykjavik, one from Snaefellsjokull in Western Iceland, and five from the vast Vatnajokull National Park in Eastern Iceland. Other fellows represent a mixture of agencies and non-profit organizations, including the Environmental Agency of Iceland, Friends of Vatnajokull, the Icelandic Search and Rescue Association, the Icelandic Tourist Board, and the Northeast Nature Center.

Three national parks have been established in Iceland: Thingvellir National Park that was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1972, Snaefellsjokull National Park, and Vatnajokull National Park, which is Iceland’s newest national park and also the largest national park in Europe. Together they contribute to safeguarding important wildlife, geological formations, ecosystem services, and outdoor recreation.


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