A major package of improvements have been introduced for Swaledale to bolster access for outdoor enthusiasts including walkers, mountain bikers and horse riders as well as people with mobility difficulties and families with buggies.
The move is seen as key to boosting tourism as well as tackling the reliance on cars for both visitors and residents and improving the National Park’s green credentials.
Richmondshire District Council leader Yvonne Peacock, who is a member of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said it is hoped the Swale Trail would serve as a key attraction.
The 12-mile off-road route across the dale from Reeth to Keld has brought together sections of bridleway and unsurfaced, unclassified roads and has seen work to upgrade the surfaces, improving drainage and protecting sections which have suffered from river bank erosion and flooding.
Coun Peacock, who has officially opened the £221,000 trail, said while the area had become renowned for its routes featured in international races such as the Tour de France’s Grand Départ in 2014, the absence of cycle routes for families had been recognised as a major gap in the area’s tourism market.
She added that authorities had been keen to back it partly because it would open sources of income for Swaledale’s traders, and in particular the villages of Reeth, Gunnerside and Keld.
The three villages have 11 shops selling gifts and crafts, two outdoor pursuits businesses, two museums, 17 food outlets and three general stores as well as a wide variety of accommodation.
Coun Peacock said: “Swaledale has more narrow roads than other places and cycling along them is a worry for parents, who as a result can’t really enjoy the scenery.
“With the launch of the Swale Trail, the second that parents get on their bikes they can enjoy the ride.”
A University of Central Lancashire study in 2015 estimated that the Swale Trail would initially see up to 15,000 visitors per annum, which could grow as service facilities develop around it.
The academics said the trail’s benefits – even allowing for some displacement from other activities in the area – could be up to £420,000 annually for the local economy.
The trail has been financed through £98,000 in funding from the Yorkshire Dales LEADER programme, £50,000 from Richmondshire District Council’s Economic Growth Fund, £60,000 from the park authority and £13,000 from the Pennine Trails National Trails Partnership.
Coun Peacock said: “We thought it was important, both economically and socially. It has taken a lot of work, particularly as one section of the route collapsed at one point.
“This will have a big knock-on effect by making Swaledale more accessible to families.
“It has been shown that if children come to the Yorkshire Dales with their parents they are more likely to return as adults. However, this is not just for visitors; local residents will also benefit.”
The need to reduce car usage in the National Park was highlighted earlier this month when Malham was brought to a standstill during the Easter weekend by hundreds of day-trippers whose cars gridlocked the narrow roads and blocked access for buses and emergency vehicles.