This weekend sees the closure of the Pen y Pass car park for all but drops offs and bikes. The Police will be in attendance, the national park and the local council are working together on this one to avoid a repeat of the scenes from last weekend when people parked all along the road from Pen y Pass to Pen y Gwryd. I’m all for parking on roads to calm traffic, but I think this came closer to stopping the traffic rather than just slowing it!
So, is this a long-term solution or not? It has been recognised for quite some time the that the parking at Pen y Pass it nowhere near large enough for the demand. The car park is simply too small for the numbers of people want to walk up Yr Wyddfa* from this location. In 2018 around 250,000 people ascended Yr Wyddfa from Pen y Pass.
People have learnt that the PyG track is the quickest way up Yr Wyddfa, being the shortest and the one with the least height gain, of course this is not the full story and we see plenty of unfortunate incidents on this uneven rocky route, in winter we see snow collecting on the zig-zags and the path icing over completely, this is hard to put in guidebooks. If all is well at Pen y Pass the casual walker is unlikely to suspect the problems that may lay ahead. Indeed, for the vast majority of the time it is a clear path, with a dry surface that most people can follow wearing trainers.
How do we solve the parking problem at Pen y Pass? Well we either enlarge the car park or we move it. The in-between measure of keeping it open hasn’t worked. Despite online information or road signs to say the car park is full, we cannot resist just taking a look to make sure, this doubles the traffic movements in this area. Moving the car park can be the only solution, but this comes with a whole raft of new issues. The car parks in Nant Peris can soon fill to overflowing, the buses linking the car parks to Pen y Pass struggle to cope with the numbers at peak times of day (then can been running up and down the Llanberis Pass empty for a large part of the day). So, yes let’s move the parking. There is large, ex industrial site to the west of Llanberis at Glyn Rhonwy, this seems like the obvious place. I think to many it is, but there is a significant group of people who are holding on to the thought of job creating enterprises taking over this site. It seems to me that it would not be difficult to link the two and have a ‘Yr Wyddfa Centre’ and associated infrastructure here.
All well and good, we have a potential site and we can see that removing the parking from Pen y Pass to Glyn Rhonwy makes a lot of sense. This parking could be billed as ‘Yr Wyddfa Parking’ and be signposted from the A55 and the A5. All this achievable, but here’s the rub. How do people get, efficiently from Glyn Rhonwy to Pen y Pass? A continuous line of buses? What is in it for Llanberis? Without ‘buy-in’ from the village the plan will struggle. Are there HSE issues in and around the quarries of the Glyn Rhonwy site? And, most importantly, where does the money come from?
I think we have to seriously investigate this type of scheme now; I believe the Yr Wyddfa Partnership is hearing this message. The alternatives of limiting the numbers on the mountain are fraught with ethical and practical difficulties. Could a path to the Llanberis Path be made from Glyn Rhonwy? Could the Llanberis Path be made more ‘interesting’ with information boards? And of course, all the paths need substantial investment in their infrastructure, what would this look like? Pedestrian motorways? What is the alternative?
This is not an easy problem to solve. If you’ve visited American National Parks you’ll know they are Government controlled, this can be franchised out to a private company, they do use permit systems, they do ban private cars and they do enforce the use of shuttle buses. The geography, the landownership and the culture as so very, very different here.
We should though learn what we can from other places. At the Grand Canyon, it is said that more people watch the Grand Canyon Imax film in the neighbouring town than actually visit the canyon’s edge. We could have environmentally sympathetic developments in Llanberis and Bethesda that soak up, educate and entertain large numbers of visitors. From these bases, shuttle buses could run to Yr Wyddfa and Ogwen. Both the Welsh Government and the UK Government have, I believe a duty to invest in schemes like these, but there must be full consultation, visionary leadership and a strong will for this type of scheme to succeed. This would be a massive cultural shift for us and demand a really big change in our habits, perhaps we need to start thinking about it?
*I’m trying the use the Welsh name Yr Wyddfa where I can. I think the day when visitors head to Yr Wyddfa rather than Snowdon my be some way off yet though, so for now, the headlines will be all about Snowdon.