Over the years, literally millions of pounds have been spent on Yr Wyddfa’s paths, both in initially laying them and subsequently maintaining them. Back in the 1980s, when the poor state of the paths was reaching crunch point, the National Park Committee (as it was then) secured a sum of £600,000 (equivalent to nearly £3m today) to be spent on the main six paths.
But paths need maintenance, and the cost of upkeeping paths, whilst cheaper than the original laying, is not cheap either. In all, paths cost about £100 per metre to renovate, and this expense is easily explained by the workers’ wages and equipment, and by the occasional cost of helicopter hire to move large half-ton ‘heli-bags’ of rocks up to the site. (It’s not permitted to use stone from the mountain itself or even from the National Park.) About 2,000 tons of stone is helicoptered annually, and helicopter hire can cost over £10,000 a day, though it remains cost effective when its use is well planned, for in a single day around 100 bags can be moved.
So where does this money come from? Well, sources include Gwynedd County council, the Snowdonia National Park Authority (SNPA), Welsh Government grants and the National Trust (mostly for the part of Yr Wyddfa which they own). But the Park Authority gets its money from the Welsh government, so ultimately it is funded by the public; for Wales’ three national parks it costs each Welsh citizen about £4 annually. If extra money is given by the government, residents are paying again, and certainly Gwynedd residents end up paying even more.
But shouldn’t the people who use the Park and Yr Wyddfa pay something towards their upkeep?
Back in October 2020, following the massive increase in tourists after lockdown (and the associated problems with parking) councillors in Gwynedd “overwhelmingly backed the principle of charging visitors to climb Snowdon”, as the county battled what was described as “over-tourism”.
The motion was proposed by a councillor, who asked members to work with the SNPA to explore a “considerable fee” (whatever that would be) on visitors to the park, arguing that it would be advantageous in numerous ways.
In a landslide vote (of the 54 members no-one voted against it), members backed “opening the debate” amid claims that the area isn’t benefiting as it should from its natural assets.
Some of the discussion revolved round a tourist tax on hospitality (which is now being actively pursued by the Welsh government), and other ideas included taxing cars coming into the National Park, and charging people to use the paths up Yr Wyddfa. Some described such a move as “long overdue”, stating that “a fantastic asset is currently being given away.” Yr Wyddfa itself was described as “a classic example of over-tourism at its worst.”
Of course, it was known that the authority currently has no powers to charge such a levy within Eryri (Snowdonia), and nor does the SNPA itself, which has no tax-raising powers; a change in the law would be required. And, of course, nor is it legal to charge people to use public Rights of Way, which is what the paths on Yr Wyddfa are.
Nevertheless, is it right that well over half a million people a year use the paths on Yr Wyddfa for free, and that it’s the residents of Wales – and especially Gwynedd – who largely pick up the tab?
We’d all like to see visitors supporting the community by spending the money in the local economy, and this helps, but many walkers come and go on a day visit and don’t spend much money here at all. And of the money that is spent, it doesn’t help Yr Wyddfa’s paths. (We ought to say here that profit from Pen y Pass car park goes directly towards path maintenance on Yr Wyddfa. Revenue from other car parks goes into the National Park general kitty, which includes Yr Wyddfa.)
Perhaps we should focus on those walkers on Yr Wyddfa who would like to show their gratitude. Why don’t we encourage the giving of donations? Yes, donations can be made online to the National Park at https://snowdonia.gov.wales/protect/donate/ but at the moment there’s no system to encourage walkers on Yr Wyddfa to donate at the end of their memorable day. Perhaps we should do something about that.