Volunteers have begun the mammoth task of surveying the condition of every public path, stile, signpost, gate and bridge in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
A total of 93 volunteers will between them walk all 2,620km (1,628 miles) of public rights of way in the National Park by the end of the summer.
Armed with clipboards and detailed survey sheets, they will assess 18,419 pieces of infrastructure and 1,047 bridges.
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A further 23 volunteers will input the information onto the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s (YDNPA) computer system, used by the ranger service to plan and record rights of way work.
The chairman of the YDNPA, Carl Lis, said: “I’d like to sincerely thank all the volunteers. They are carrying out a huge and essential piece of work. What many people will find extraordinary is that this survey takes place every year.”
“The information our volunteers will gather will give us a full picture of the state of the rights of way network, which we shouldn’t forget is an asset of crucial value to both residents and visitors. A lot can change in a year. The volunteers have already found fallen down trees across stiles, rotten signposts, an occasional locked gate and all manner of other issues, all of which will be resolved by the ranger service throughout the year.”
One of the volunteers is Bob Emmerson, from Richmond.
He said: “Doing the Parish Paths Survey ultimately enhances the enjoyment for visitors. It’s vital to ensure that the public rights of way network is kept up to a very high standard of repair. Being involved also means that I get to walk paths that I probably would not normally walk.
“I am very proud of being a Dales Volunteer and being part of such a dedicated group of people who give their time and expertise to the special place that is the Yorkshire Dales National Park.”
The YDNPA keeps a record of volunteers’ contribution to the public rights of way network, in terms of both the annual survey and maintenance work. In 2016/17, 2,272 working days were completed by volunteers, comparable to 11 full time equivalent members of rights of way staff.
The YDNPA’s self-imposed target – to ensure that 90% of public rights of way are easy to use by members of the public – has been met for the past four years.