Britain’s first national park, 40 years old this year, has succeeded all too well as a visitor attraction.
Cars clog the roads and hikers have trampled the trails of the Peak District National Park.
There are 110 villages and townships within the park, and residents complain that 22 million visitors come and go every year without contributing much to the economy.
“The busiest man in this town is the undertaker,” said Mayor Leonard Twigg of Bakewell, referring both to the influx of retirees and the troubled economy of the park’s headquarters town.
“Life for a significant minority is not mirrored by the splendor of their surroundings,” said Geoffrey Claff, director of the Peak Park Trust, which conducts social, housing and other programs for park residents. “There are farmers living at subsistence level and local people leaving the area because of a lack of affordable housing.”
The highest of the park’s peaks is the 2,088-foot Kinder Scout. It was chosen in 1932 for a mass trespass by 400 walkers to claim access to the moors. The campaign culminated in 1949 in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act.
Peak Park was established in 1951. It is no wilderness like the world’s first national park, Yellowstone in Wyoming, created in 1872 and more than six times larger than the 542-square-mile English park.
Its lands range from the bleak, heather-clad Wessenden Moor in the north to the lush Dove River Valley, made famous by Izaak Walton’s “The Compleat Angler,” in the south.
The park is ringed by the cities of Manchester, Huddersfield, Sheffield, Derby and Stoke-on-Trent. Half of England’s 46 million people live within an hour’s drive.
“If this lovely countryside had not been designated a national park, Manchester by now might have stretched 30 miles to Sheffield in one continuous line of urban development,” said Jennie Ainsworth, an official guide for the region.
Peak Park is the second-most visited national park in the world after Mt. Fuji in Japan, which draws around 100 million people a year.
Even so, Peak Park roads are often jammed.
“On summer Sundays and holidays, lines of cars and coaches can stretch 5 miles as they wait to enter Bakewell,” said Roland Smith, the chief information officer for the park.
These one-day visitors contribute little to an economy that has to support a population of 38,000 in the 110 villages and townships in the park.
Hikers have eroded foot paths to 80 feet wide in places such as Edale, at the start of the Pennine Way long-distance walk.
“It’s getting worse and I don’t know what can be done about it, apart from spending more money on repairs, and there’s a limit to that,” said Roger Hoole, a keen walker and parish councilman of Hope Valley.
“Trying to get people to walk elsewhere won’t work because the best walks in the finest country are on the moors, the dales and along river banks, and closing them would start an uproar from walkers,” he said.
Even the wealthy retirees cause problems, Twigg said.
“People come here to retire and with money to buy a house,” he said. “House prices are up in the clouds as a result and young couples can’t afford them so they leave for the cities. The national park regulations restrict building and the Town Council hasn’t the money to build.”
The Peak Park Trust issued a report in June titled “Hidden Deprivation in the Countryside.”
In Tideswell, one of the villages examined, the 2,000 residents have lost their library and youth club and seen the price of a row cottage rocket from $33,000 to $181,500 over the last 20 years. Jobs have been lost in farming, quarrying, mining and manufacturing.
As a result, the report said, a way of life is disappearing.