Akureyri_travel notes 6
21 km | 13 miles around Akureyri
The grey weather of yesterday continued into today. Breaks in the clouds, offered us glimpses of the surrounding mountains.These mountains along with the city’s location, near the base of Eyjafjörður, the longest fjord in central northern Iceland, provide the city with a protected harbor. They also make Akureyri one of the most important port and fisheries center for Iceland. But, I was surprised how difficult it was to acquire fresh fish. After searching the town on our own, we went to the tourist information center for assistance. The lady behind the desk informed us, with obvious regret, that last year, the final fish market in the city closed down. This brought about a bizarre realization: in a country where fishing is the highest economic contributor, I still have not seen a fish market. The lady was, however, able to point us in the direction of a small supermarket with a fish counter that fulfilled our fish craving. The building containing the tourist information center was stunning. Circular in shape, its structure wore thick, dark, basalt armor. These striking basalt walls were reminiscent of the formations we had recently witnessed in the cliffs of the Westfjords.
The first public park in Iceland was initiated by a group of housewives from Akureyri. In 1910, these women founded the Park Society with a vision to, “make a Park in Akureyri, for adornment for the town and as a recreation place for the inhabitants”. The Park Society was allocated 2.5 acres of “hay-field” by the municipality and in 1912, the Akureyri Park was officially opened. In 1953, the society disbanded, the city took over responsibility for the park. In this political transition, from society-run, to city-run, the park became a Botanical Garden, the first in Iceland.
Numerous additions to this “hay-field” parcel accrued over time creating the current 9-acre botanical garden. Grand axial paths lead to a circular nucleus with a pool serving as the focal point. Interstitial and peripheral spaces are interwoven with secondary paths. These smaller pathways have an ad-hoc feel. They provided an intimate setting and created an atmosphere of adventure and exploration. I was excited to see that the maintenance grounds, greenhouses and work spaces were included in this botanical garden. This inclusion of seedlings, tools and workers made visible the realities, processes, and care involved in maintaining this garden. Today, the botanical garden believes its most important task, “is to provide northern Iceland in general with trees, shrubs and perennials that fulfill demands upon beauty and hardiness”. Interestingly, there is no entrance fee to visit this exceptionally well-cared for botanical garden.
Kjarnaskógur Forest is a large area (almost 2,000 acres) northeast of the city. It’s dedicated to an experimental forest and nursery. In 1946, the Forestry Union acquired land barren land previously used for sheep grazing and potato growing. In 1952, planting of this land commenced. Since then over 700,000 plants of various species (approx. 80) have been cultivated. The most common tree species in the forest is the Icelandic birch (Betula pubescens) and larch (Larix sp.). I was also amazed by the large amount of lupine. The lupine appeared similar to the ones I am familiar with in Maine, except their leaves were smaller, and they were blooming in late August (in Maine they bloom in late June).
In 1972, the Town of Akureyri and the Forestry Union made an agreement to establish a public recreation area in Kjarnaskógur. In 1974, the grounds of Kjarnaskógur were formally open to the public. Today, the forest contains trail systems for walking, mountain biking and cross-country skiing. Signage in the park emphasizes the illuminated outdoor running/cross-country skiing path that traverses the woods for a little over a mile. With extremely short daylight hours in the winter, this lighting system provides the ability for year-round use. Playgrounds, as well as facilities for barbecuing and picnicking, create additional recreational aspects to this forest.
Driving into the forest, I was surprised to find a large, colorful playground. My preconceived ideas of what a “forest” would be, a place of trees, influenced my immediate distaste for this construction. It wasn’t until the end of our time spent at Kjarnaskógur that I began to appreciate the creativity and thoughtfulness of these gathering areas. Why shouldn’t a forest have play structures for children and a grilling commons for adults? The more contrived recreation areas were condensed into a single area whittled out of the trees. Bermed land created separate niches for picnic tables in close proximity to a larger grill court allowing for privacy. Paths for immersion into the forest also existed. It was very strange to walk through a forest that has been planted only 40 years ago. Moments of dense pine abutted meadows of birch. (For what reason?) I pondered. What an incredibly huge task: to plant a forest!