One of the obvious downsides to having a local patch that is a country park located on the edge of a city is how busy it can get and the number of activities that take place in the water and around the area. This is something that in general can't be influenced so you just have to accept the situation. It is however useful to know when to avoid visiting - I have occasionally turned up to find that the whole park has been taken over for a triathlon or race, or even more annoying an event on the broad that has disturbed all of the birds. To be fair, at least these events are usually included on the events programme on the Whitlingham Charitable Trust website. The trust holds an annual form meeting each November when presumably this sort of thing might get discussed, but my experience is that the date is either put up very close to, or sometimes after the meeting, so I'm not sure who actually attends them. I suspect it is mainly the watersports centre and organisations rather than individual park users.
Nonetheless I was surprised to find out that there is a new initiative this year where cyclists have an event around the Great Broad every Saturday. This is in the style of the popular Park Run format that happens across the country, and has been called the Park Pedal or Park Ride (the various promoters don't seem to have settled on one name). This will happen each Saturday from 10-11 from now onwards. Whilst accepting that cycling is a healthy and popular activity so can see the attraction, several things did strike me about it:
- There appeared to be no consultation with other park goers prior to the decision. There is currently a survey of Whitlingham users (to take part click here) - wouldn't it have made sense to ask about it there?
- The event is scheduled in every Saturday all year - that is quite a commitment. I can't help thinking once or twice a month would be more appropraite, and perhaps some sort of trial for a few months to see how it goes?
- The paths in some places get muddy and churned up after wet weather, will there be any additional funding for repairs caused by the increase in cyclists? A concentrated group will cause more damage than single file or casual use. Photos from one of the first events also shows some cars on the meadow near the barn, which seems like a bad idea.
- This really needs to be flagged up better to C.P. users. Clearly if you are just going for a walk around the broad you will want to avoid 10-11 on a Saturday. I only found out about it via a tweet from Radio Norfolk, and unless you follow cycle-retated Twitter feeds you are unlikely to have known about it (there is no mention on the Whitlingham Charitable Trust website that I could find).
Pedal Revolution, one of the organisers, have put up details on their website. The statement "There will be a lot of cyclists between 10 and 11 each Saturday and we are reassuring dog walkers and pedestrians that for 6 days and 23 hours every week they will have priority access!" is presumably meant to be reassuring, but could be construed as rather sardonic given that a lot of visitors work during the week and knowing you have 'priority' for nocturnal visits isn't of great use to most of us. In fact Active Norfolk already have the event down as running 10-12 on the booking site, and there appear to be other sessions (cafe ride and cycle coaching) running from Whitlingham until 1. Given that in winter there is about 8 hours of daylight, if the events creep to 3 hours that is actually a big chunk of the day.
Time will tell how much of an impact this event will have on casual visitors, but my main gripe is simply the lack of information that shows that some of these things have been considered. From my regular visits I think that the most common reason for going to Whitlingham is some variant of "having a nice walk round the broad" and that needs to be very high on the considerations board.