Saturday, January 2, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For

Last week, we spent three days in the Lake District in Great Britain. It's been a tourist area for more than 200 years. In 1844 William Wordsworth campaigned against a proposed railway saying that to make the region accessible would ruin its scenic beauty. During our cold, snowy (but sunny!) days there, we found the region incredibly beautiful. The Lake District National Park clearly works incredibly hard to maintain the region's identity. Villages and small towns maintain much of their character in the centres (most designated as Conservation Areas), working farms still spot the landscape (though many also operate as B and B's), and clearly development is restricted along the lakes themselves.

But...8.3 million visitors a year come to the region--89% by private car. And it's not a big national park from an American perspective: only 34 miles wide. In comparison, the much larger Yellowstone National Park gets just over 3 million visitors a year. Our B and B host told us that in the summer she rarely even goes out on the roads--too crowded. She and her family are some of the only 42,000 or so people who live in the District full-time. It was easy to imagine bumper-to-bumper traffic on these tiny roads and lanes during the summer months. Even between Christmas and New Year's, the streets were crowded with walkers (usually in full gear) heading out to the hills.

It's the eternal dilemma isn't it? We want people to visit our museums, our historic sites, our no-longer industrial communities--but success brings more challenges than we imagine. As I checked out the Lake District National Park website, several things struck me as they dealt with the challenges of success. First, that information--public hearings, downloadable documents, up-to-date and clear web info--is key in making both residents and visitors partners in the process of preserving and appreciating this unique place. In the planning section of the website there's even a section called, "Unraveling the jargon." Third, the park, a governmental agency, clearly understands that it's work won't be possible without multiple, committed, community partners. Third, it's planning that makes the difference. The park has a clearly articulated vision for the next twenty years and a downloadable plan for how it will be achieved.


"Working together for a prosperous economy, vibrant communities and world class visitor experiences - and all sustaining the spectacular landscape."

The Lake District National Park will be an inspirational example of sustainable development in action.

A place where its prosperous economy, world class visitor experiences and vibrant communities come together to sustain the spectacular landscape, its wildlife and cultural heritage.

Local people, visitors, and the many organisations working in the National Park or have a contribution to make to it, must be united in achieving this.

What will it actually look like in 2030?

A prosperous economy - Businesses will locate in the National Park because they value the quality of opportunity, environment and lifestyle it offers - many will draw on a strong connection to the landscape. Entrepreneurial spirit will be nurtured across all sectors and traditional industries maintained to ensure a diverse economy.

World class visitor experiences - High quality and unique experiences for visitors within a stunning and globally significant landscape. Experiences that compete with the best in the international market.

Vibrant communities - People successfully living, working and relaxing within upland, valley and lakeside places where distinctive local character is maintained and celebrated.

A spectacular landscape - A landscape which provides an irreplaceable source of inspiration, whose benefits to people and wildlife are valued and improved. A landscape whose natural and cultural resources are assets to be managed and used wisely for future generations.

Could I see this as a visitor? Actually, yes, in many ways. Our B and B served eggs and bacon from a family farm; local products are found throughout the stores (we brought home great looking mugs from Herdy); brochures encourage you to "give the driver a break," by taking buses, trains, or boats; and the landscape is spectacular and at the same time, lived-in and homey.

Plans aren't worth anything unless they're put to work--and have community buy-in. I want to try and keep an eye on the Lake District as the region's plans move forward. What will it be like in 2030? I hope there will still be a chance to be a solitary walker (or three of us) going down a country lane to be met by a flock of Herdwick sheep.

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