Presentation celebrates ten years of footpaths partnership

Ten years of a partnership to maintain public rights of way in parts of North Yorkshire has been celebrated with a presentation to a key member of the team.

presentation to Richard Smith

Richard Smith has stepped down from his volunteer role as footpaths officer for Lower Wharfedale Ramblers after ten years because of mobility problems. He has been instrumental in developing a partnership between the group and the county council. This has seen more than 15 members of the Ramblers group voluntarily taking on a wide range of maintenance and construction work.

Richard, who remains a member of the Local Access Forum, which advises the county council on making the countryside more accessible, said: “Ramblers across the country encourage voluntary groups to take part in practical path maintenance and repair. It is part of the Rambler’s nationwide effort to keep the footpaths open and the rights of way accessible.”

To show their appreciation for Richard’s efforts, members of the council’s public rights of way team clubbed together to mark his resignation with a gift, a hand-made miniature fingerpost.

Richard said: “We have a really good relationship with the county council and I have to say that Ian Kelly (the county council’s countryside access manager) has brought about a real cultural transformation in the rights of way team. There is much more opportunity for people to engage and influence. We have also developed a valuable relationship with public rights of way field officer Catherine Inman and much of the success of the group’s work is down to her ability to work effectively with volunteers.

“In Lower Wharfedale, we have done almost every project you could name. We have built bridges, built stiles, renovated gates, built and erected new gates and cleared paths. We’ve put new surfaces down on paths, almost any job that improves the right of way.

“The more challenging projects are the ones when the weather is bad, when you are out there in the pouring rain, or it’s really muddy. That’s when it’s most challenging, when the weather is a bit unforgiving. And when you erect stiles or build gates one of the things you need is firm posts in the ground. It’s fine most of the time, but when you meet very rocky terrain it’s really hard work.”

The partnership Richard has helped to build will continue under the leadership of Richard Brook, an experienced member of the group, who has led some of the previous work.

This partnership is just one way the public is helping to maintain the county’s public rights of way network.

The County Council has a team of more than 100 countryside volunteers, who this financial year so far have already given well over 2,000 hours of their time to inspect rights of way and carry out conservation work.

County Councillor Don Mackenzie, Executive Member for Access, said: “We value our countryside volunteers like Richard very highly and are grateful for their huge effort in helping to maintain the public rights of way network for the enjoyment of residents and visitors. North Yorkshire’s wide variety of countryside walks is a key reason that people visit our county.

“As well as making a contribution to our open spaces, the work which the volunteers do helps to keep them fit and healthy, and can provide a social element that benefits their mental wellbeing and helps to address feelings of isolation.”

Countryside volunteers must be 18 years or over, but no experience is necessary. To find out more, email countryside.volunteers@northyorks.gov.uk or call the volunteer co-ordinator on 01609 532435. The council is not currently recruiting volunteers, but may have further capacity in spring.

This story was published 2 January 2019