In 2020 the Yorkshire Dales National Park celebrates its sixty sixth anniversary.
Created for its stunning natural beauty and outstanding opportunities for recreation and relaxation, it is a treasured old friend, seemingly having been around forever. But its story is one of vision, determination, and – ultimately – triumph.
Wordsworth and Yellowstone
The concept of creating National Parks can be traced back to William Wordsworth. In the 1835 edition of his Guide to the Lakes, he suggested that the Lake District should be regarded as a “sort of national property in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy.”
Yellowstone was the world’s first National Park. It was created in 1872 when the US Government saw the need to protect wilderness areas from exploitation and make them available for everyone to enjoy.
It took us a while to catch up. Britain at that time had no such wild areas. Our moors and mountains were nearly all farmed or managed in some way. However influential individuals recognised that increased industrialisation was a threat to the beauty of our more remote countryside.
Social reformers also felt that it should be the right of all to enjoy the clean air and spiritual refreshment the countryside offered. Movements such as the Co-operative Holidays’ Association brought young factory workers on outings to the countryside. The CHA even built their own guesthouses, including one at Hebden in the Yorkshire Dales which opened in 1909.
An outdoor movement – including the National Trust, Ramblers Association and Youth Hostels Association – began to find its voice. It lobbied the Government for more formal protection of our special landscapes.
John Dower and the government
As secretary of the Standing Committee on National Parks which had been formed in 1936, town planner and National Parks campaigner John Dower was asked to report on how the National Park ideal might work for us.
His report in 1945 led directly to the Hobhouse Report which prepared the way for legislation to create National Parks in England and Wales. In 1949 the National Park and Access to the Countryside Act was passed and ten were created over the following decade – the Yorkshire Dales National Park in 1954.