Skye's MSP is backing plans for a new park and ride scheme designed to unblock pressure at Skye's tourist hotspots as well as showcase the island's stunning landscapes.
Following months of meetings and extensive consultation with residents, businesses and key strategic partners, Kate Forbes MSP is supporting a proposal designed to help improve tourism management and visitor experience.
The plan could give birth to what is thought to be the world's first bilingual Geopark in partnership with Sabhal Mòr Ostaig – which would promote the use of Gaelic as well as highlight Skye's acclaimed geological features such as the Old Man of Storr, the Fairy Pools and Neist Point.
The need for a tourism management strategy has become increasingly evident this summer, with some of the roads and facilities around the island's major tourist attractions coming under significant strain with a six-fold increase in the population during peak months.
Kate Forbes MSP explained: "Over the summer months, I have been working hard with many others to draft a strategic plan for Skye and although this is not the final product I think it is an excellent start.
"It isn't difficult to discover where the pinch points are, as visitors increasingly look to TripAdvisor to set their agenda.
"In order to tackle the problems of congestion, lack of toilets and conservation of our fantastic natural environment, I support this new idea.
"The visitor management scheme is one of the best maps I've seen of Skye's key sites and it would enable small visitor hubs to be built with some retail, a few toilets and more information about this particular site. These could be established in each of the key areas.
"This could also work alongside an expanded park and ride scheme, which could reduce the number of individual cars and big coaches on our narrow single track roads.
"All of this could be delivered alongside a recognition of Skye's stunning natural environment through the designation of a Geopark.
"There are still challenges to be worked through, such as finance. This may not be the complete answer, it may not be the right answer, but I hope that it starts to bring together ideas.
"I've spoken to SkyeConnect, and alongside their new project officer, I hope that this shows we are serious about making progress. We need to be as ready as possible for next summer."
On Friday 15 September, the proposal for a bilingual Geopark was presented to the Board of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, which backed the idea.
Professor Boyd Robertson, Principal of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI said "The concept of a bilingual Geopark for Skye is one that accords with the mission of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig to promote and develop the Gaelic language and the intention to seek UNESCO status for the Geopark would further extend the already significant international reach of the College.
"There is a very strong link between the language and the landscape and a bilingual Geopark would highlight and illumine that. It would also give visitors to the island a keener appreciation of the culture and heritage of the island and of the people and forces that helped shape it."
After securing SMO Board's support on Friday, one of the co-authors of the proposal and geologist, Donald Fisher said: "The creation of the world's first ever bilingual Geopark on the Isle of Skye, in partnership with Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, will certainly boost the profile of the Gaelic language on a truly global scale and, at the same time, will present Skye's globally important and world-renowned geological heritage to people both on the island and also around the world in a way that has never been possible before.
"The implementation of a radical Island-wide park-and-ride scheme, developed as an intrinsic component of the Geopark's long-term operational strategy, could substantially alleviate Skye's current visitor traffic and parking problems to the benefit of all, residents and visitors alike. The potential benefits to the Isle of Skye are immense."
Co-author Seoris McGillivray added: "We are delighted to form this partnership with Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in the global promotion of the Gaelic language. This will have positive benefits for future generations. The outstanding geological heritage of Skye is a very important aspect of the island and there are strong links between the landscape and the Gaelic language. The adoption of the proposed park-and-ride scheme will, for the first time, place the Isle of Skye at the forefront of best practice in visitor management. It is anticipated that Skye will become a model of best practice across the world."
Shirley Spear OBE of SkyeConnect commented: "I think this is a wonderful idea to build upon and it is absolutely on-side with the discussions SkyeConnect has been having all along, whilst thinking about how to resolve the challenges we face in the Isle of Skye.
"There is an enormously important need to preserve Skye's iconic landscape for future generations. Sometimes I feel we take the island's natural beauty and wonderful sites of scientific interest almost for-granted.
"As a community, we ought to be working much harder than we have done in the past to protect them, whilst allowing the people of Skye and her visitors time to revel in their formidable glory. Trotternish in particular, is home to some of the world's greatest geological landmarks.
"Linked with other areas of the island which have become special attractions on their own merits, we could create a network of amazing places to see, study and research, whilst maintaining them in the manner in which they deserve.
"I am all for creating hubs which can provide park and ride facilities, educational, visitor information and advice, as well as toilets and refreshments. Access to the main sites could be from these hubs by minibus.
"I visualise this as being an important collaboration of specialists bringing this together for the good of the island and much more.
"Skye's geo-hubs could become an exciting, world-class destination experience of immense quality and brilliant for future generations to learn about and cherish for many years to follow.
"I believe it will also prove popular across all sectors and it is extremely important that we work together."