Skye’s Fairy Pools has become an unexpected and unplanned tourist phenomena, with visitor levels rising from 13,000 a year in 2006 to as many as 200,000 now. The car parking and toileting problems created in a remote glen, accessed using a single-track road, have been severe. The Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland (OATS) stepped in to partner with the Minginish Community Hall Association (MCHA) to come up with a solution that would also give OATS and the community additional income. OATS had to tackle a range of obstacles, including raising more than £800,000, to create the 140-space car park and off-grid toilets that have largely solved the problems.
OATS has provided a unique solution to a local problem created by the global phenomenon of social media-driven tourism. No commercial operator or local authority was able or willing to step in to untangle the knotty problem of dealing with unprecedented annual visitor numbers turning up to a site which had no infrastructure except a single-track road and a small car park. By partnering with the local people who were suffering from the problems created by the site, as well as benefiting from swelling visitor numbers, OATS developed tailor-made car park and toilet facilities that had the support of the community.
The OATS-developed model of community partnership, based on a long-term site leasing agreement, to help both the community and the local environment is already being used on other OATS trailhead infrastructure projects, sites which have suffered in the same way.
The primary challenge was to raise more than £800,000, and OATS used its years of expertise to pull in a range of partners to fund the work. Unexpected ground conditions added cost and time to the programme, but a locally-developed solution reduced the impact. The continued rise in visitor numbers meant initial plans had to be revised to cope with them, including ensuring the off-grid waste processing tank, at the cost of £120,000, had the capacity required.
Since the initial car park was built the link road between the upper tier and the lower tier of the car park has been tarmaced.
In the last year, with financial assistance from Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s Community-Led Tourism Infrastructure Fund via MCHA, a link path between the car park’s top and bottom tiers has been built and the car park drainage has been improved. The cattle grids have also been dug out and an extra ticket machine will ease queuing at the busiest times.
Skye’s destination management organisation Skye Connect is working with Edinburgh University to develop a visitor management system for the island based on real-time data collected from vehicle sensors and people counters. The aim will be to help visitors choose which popular sites to visit at busy times, with dynamic roadside message signs (DMS), and/or through an app.
Through the Skye Iconic Sites Project, OATS has contributed to this project by buying two people-counters and a vehicle sensor for the Glenbrittle road to the Fairy Pools Car Park.