It attracts 750,000 visitors a year and is hailed as the ‘jewel’ in South Yorkshire’s crown. Rother Valley Country Park opened 30 years ago on Monday as the transformation of a former opencast coal site. Ellen Beardmore met staff and visitors to find out why the park is so special
“I was here before the trees were,” laughs park administration assistant Christine Lockwood.
And she was, starting work at the site before its grand opening in 1983 and watching saplings grow over the decades.
Christine added: “There was no road through the park then. It was literally handed over as land.
“The opening day was absolutely packed because there were a lot of dignitaries there.
“All the new watersport staff had to do a sail past and they didn’t find it very easy because the weather was bad.
“But it got better and all that year the park was full. People hadn’t experienced this sort of place.
“I do love the park.”
Rother Valley Country Park was first suggested in the 1960s as the areas of Mosborough, Beighton and Sothall began to expand.
After opening on May 27, 1983, the park was visited by around one million people in its first year.
Today they come for a massive range of reasons including sailing, water skiing, school nature trails, impromptu barbecues, golf and charity runs.
Some people fly in from abroad to take part in hovercraft or other competitions at the biggest park of its kind in the region – others make the trip every day from their homes to walk the dog.
Retired boxer Clinton Woods is also known to run around the lakes.
Ranger Dave Burke is one of the 17 full-time staff employed all year round.
His duties range from rescuing wildlife to demolishing dens made by over-enthusiastic visitors and reuniting stray dogs with their owners.
The 42-year-old, who has worked at the park for seven years and commutes from Thrybergh, Rotherham, said: “No two days are the same.
“It’s all about maintaining the park to make it enjoyable and safe for every single visitor – which can mean cutting the grass. There’s a lot to do because it’s a 750-acre site – but luckily a lot of that is water!
“Rother Valley is a great opportunity to get outside. You can make a full day of it here or just spend an hour. I think that’s why it is so popular, because it has something for everyone.”
Initially the park was managed by a joint committee made up of five councils, but Rotherham Council took over when the South Yorkshire County Council closed.
It is now back in control after the park was briefly managed by an independent company, and the aim is to make it self-financing.
Recent developments have included a new £26,000 children’s playground, taking over the on-site adventure playground, a miniature train track and improved fishing facilities as well as a weekly free Park Run on Saturdays.
A focus on birdwatching, increasing wildlife and creating new mountain bike trails are next in line.
Joanne Edley, operations manager for development, said: “I think the park is the jewel in South Yorkshire’s crown.
“Staff love working here and many have done so for a number of years.
“We are focusing our efforts on developing the park so it will continue to attract people for another 30 years.”
‘It’s such a relaxing place, we are lucky to have it so close on our doorstep’
We’re lucky to have it on our doorstep.
That was the verdict of visitors to Rother Valley Country Park, many regulars who have visited over the years to walk, cycle and take part in outdoor pursuits.
Marie Noone, aged 52, of Maltby, was enjoying a break at the cafe with her mum Anne after a walk.
She said: “It’s great to come for a walk and I’ve got friends who like to do something different so we are hoping to do the Segway tour.
“It’s such a relaxing place. We are lucky to have it on the doorstep.”
Grandma Anne, 79, of Maltby, pictured right, added: “I remember bringing our children here when they were kids.
“It is a lovely place, green and with something for everybody.”
Potter Chris Boddy runs the popular craft centre at Rother Valley.
The 64-year-old, of Norton Lees, said: “I have been here 24 years, I started when they opened the craft centre in 1988.
“We get a lot of kids coming in here at the weekend because they like to see the pottery take shape.
“I have seen a lot of changes to the park over time – the trees have grown for one thing.
“There are also some lovely quiet areas of the park where you can get away from the crowds.
“If you go up the hills there are some stunning views.”
And for Chris Smith, pictured below, watersports supervisor, the park has been his daily workplace for 22 years.
Son David has followed in his footsteps to work in the watersports centre.
Chris, of North Anston, said: “I’ve got a lot of memories of this place.
“The biggest change I’ve seen is in the different people who come to the park and the different watersports they enjoy.
“It used to be that windsurfing was the big thing. You could more or less have walked across the lake on windsurfers at one point.
“I used to bring my son here when he was a baby and now he’s working here with me.”
Shop assistant Lynne Brunt, right, of Halfway, was watching the ducks with her three-year-old granddaughter Ava on a family day out.
The 61-year-old said: “The park is a jewel in the crown of South Yorkshire.
“The whole open space is fantastic .
“It’s lovely for me to have the walks but then Ava gets to feed the ducks too and there is something for all ages.”