Other than the Volcano Huts and a couple of small farms, one of the only regularly inhabited spots in the wild expanse of Þórsmörk is Húsadalur, on the edge of the Krossá valley. There’s not much there: a campsite, a shower block and, tucked away behind some trees, a small, unobtrusive camp with some a tool sheds, a kitchen, a communal seating area and snack shop.
For several months of the year, this place is home to a group of international volunteers who, under the guidance of organiser Chas Geomans, will spend the summer helping to maintain and restore the region’s 70km network of trails and paths.
Chas is a quiet fellow who boils up some water for coffee while he explains his work. “We maintain the trails,” he explains, “and we work on improving access, and generally keeping the place nice. We do erosion control, and a bit of work with invasive plants. If we want to encourage a variety of local flora and fauna, we can’t have a monoculture of lupin fields. That part is a bit controversial. But we just check its spread and try to be careful about it.”
Children of the forest
Þórsmörk is, surprisingly, not a national park, but is rather under the jurisdiction of the forestry service, who’ve helped fund the initiative for the past few years.
“It’s expensive to be here, even though it’s volunteer work,” explains Chas. “We need good transport, tools, food, equipment. That money comes from the state—from the forestry commission, and an organisation called Friends of Þórsmörk who apply for funding.”
As well as these organisations, there are various tourism companies, school groups and hiking groups who come to use the area. Chas speaks fondly about the harmony that exists between this wilderness community.
“We have all kinds of organisations here,” he says, “and they’re all friends and partners. There’s a special atmosphere between everyone. People are running different businesses and such, but it all works very well. For example, the bus company gave us seventy free tickets to get our volunteers here. They don’t ask for much from us—they just want to help.”
Respecting the nature
The wood used to make steps and irrigation channels is all provided by the forestry commission. “We get off-cuts that aren’t much use commercially,” explains Chas. “They can’t be turned into boards because they’re too small. They’d probably chip it, if we didn’t use it. Be we can turn it into steps. We come from the conservation angle, so we’re always trying to do low-impact work, using natural materials.”
“Þórsmörk has a special place in the heart of Icelanders,” finishes Chas. “A lot of them came here as children. And many people want to walk these fragile trails. It’s a special place, and the conservation element is really important.”
Find out more, or volunteer to help maintain Þórsmörk, at trailteam.is.