Ms Forbes visited the site which has benefited from an £800,000 investment in the development of a 140-space car park and off grid toilet block.
The project was spearheaded by Minginish Community Hall Association (MCHA), the local community volunteer organisation, the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland (OATS), Scotland's leading environmental charity promoting sustainable public access, and the Highland Council Development and Infrastructure Service; with funding from LEADER, Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), the Scottish Government, the Scottish Land Fund, and additional financial support from both OATS and MCHA.
The new facilities mean that the site can now safely accommodate 200,000 visitors a year.
Ms Forbes said: “I’m delighted that we have been able to support the improvements that have been made to the infrastructure at the Fairy Pools, improving the facilities at one of our most iconic tourist destinations.
“The Scottish Government is supporting our rural communities as much as possible to cope with the increased numbers looking to enjoy Scotland’s countryside, especially as we encourage people to staycation this year.
“Scotland has world-leading legislation giving people rights to access our countryside, but it’s important that these are exercised responsibly and with respect for others, for wildlife and for the land itself. Investing in visitor management and supporting our rural communities is a crucial part of sustainable tourism growth.”
An unsustainable 82,000 people visited the Fairy Pools in 2015, with more than 180,000 people recorded in 2019. The narrow single-track access road was regularly blocked with parked cars, verges were damaged and both local residents, businesses and emergency services had to deal with significant disruption. The lack of infrastructure and onsite facilities also led to path and habitat degradation and litter and waste management issues.
MCHA used the Community Asset Transfer scheme to acquire the land from Forestry and Land Scotland. The car park site was then leased to OATS, who had the experience, the expertise and the capacity to deliver the scheme and handle the liabilities, for a 20-year period on condition that they construct, operate and maintain the car park and toilets.
Despite a number of construction challenges, stemming from the site’s remote location, ground conditions, and constantly increasing visitor numbers, the new facilities have been fully operational since October 2020.
OATS and MCHA worked together to progress fundraising for the build. They raised £375,597 for the car park, phase one of the project with HIE contributing £50,000.
The car park has required further infrastructure development including tarmacing, fencing and line painting. OATS and MCHA had to raise a further £26,863, with £10,198 from HIE awarded to MCHA, with OATS contributing a further £16,665.
Alaistar Nicolson, Head of Strengthening Communities at HIE's Lochaber, Skye and Wester Ross team, said:
“We are really pleased to have supported infrastructure work at local visitor attractions such as Fairy Pools. This is a fantastic development, which reduces congestion and improves safety for the community as well for visitors.”
Dougie Baird, Chief Executive of the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland, said: “There is a long-term issue of lack of basic infrastructure at popular remote destinations throughout Scotland. The effects can be far reaching with disruption to community and business and damage to the very special locations that people wish to see.
“The hugely successful landlord/tenant collaboration forged between MCHA and OATS is the perfect model to demonstrate how effective third-sector partnerships can address these issues. As well as actively protecting important and fragile assets and ensuring visitors enjoy a positive experience, the project generates revenue that will continue to provide funds for local community objectives and local and national environmental conservation. The legacy will be significant.
“It has only been possible with the provision of government grants to provide a platform to raise the rest of the funds required, and I am sure this will offer visitors a vastly improved experience whilst providing sustainability to the management of the site.”
Since opening with the first 100 parking spaces in January 2019, and despite closing for Covid-19 lockdowns, the car park has already generated enough revenue to pay for two full-time and eight casual support staff, the rent, PPE equipment, and further site infrastructure development and admin costs. This has included the addition of a defibrillator on site. The operating surplus is being re-invested as seed-corn funding for access and conservation work including for the new Skye Iconic Sites Project, and funding community benefit projects.