A MULTI-MILLION pound scheme to improve facilities for pedestrians and cyclists along the Caldon Canal has been launched.
The project will see the creation of four new cycle ways directly into the national park from the surrounding urban areas, and is expected to benefit around 3.5 million people.
One of the key routes will see the historic Caldon Canal towpath improved to provide a link connecting the Potteries through the Staffordshire Moorlands to the Churnet Valley and Peak District.
The project will see £2m spent on improving the towpath for walkers and cyclists, the largest investment in Staffordshire's canal network in recent years. A drop-in event giving local people the opportunity to view the plans and speak to some of the organisations behind the project will take place on Thursday, February 6, from 4.30pm to 7.00pm at the Stoke-on-Trent Boat Club, off Park Lane, Endon.
Contractors, working in partnership with the Canal and River Trust, will start at Stockton Brook and work on sections of the towpath progressing towards Endon and on to Cheddleton and Leek.
From there an on-road signed route to The Roaches from Leek and to the Manifold Valley will be provided as part of the project.
Charlotte Atkins, county councillor and chairman of the Canal and River Trust's Central Shires Waterway Partnership, said; "We're delighted to see work progressing to develop this important route with the county council.
"Running through some of Staffordshire's most spectacular countryside and steeped in history, the Caldon Canal is a very special place for visitors to explore.
"We really hope that walkers and cyclists will take the time to stop off and appreciate what the canal, and the communities it runs through, have to offer as they make their way into and out of the beautiful Peak District."
The project is being funded through the Government's National Park Cycle Fund, with the Peak District National Park receiving £5 million, and an additional £2.5 million being provided by local authorities and a range of other organisations.
Councillor Mark Winnington, cabinet member for economy and infrastructure with Staffordshire County Council, said: "
"Cycling is a great activity that not only helps people lead healthier lives but also helps to reduce congestion on our roads, and we are committed to developing our cycling network.
"The new routes will also provide a sustainable boost to tourism and the rural economy by encouraging more people to cycle along routes that pass through a number of local communities.
"We will continue to work closely with our partner authorities to deliver high quality cycle routes to the Peak District. Our aim is to develop existing routes and build new routes which connect with the extensive cycle network already on offer within the park."
The work is expected to be completed in June 2015.
Small sections of the towpath will be closed at a time to allow the work to be carried out safely.
Tony Favell, chair of the Peak District National Park Authority said: "This project will provide a new and healthy way for people from Staffordshire urban areas to get into the National Park and enjoy the beautiful landscapes and wildlife it has to offer. It is great for family cycling and for walkers too and will reduce traffic congestion."
Staffordshire has good access to the National Cycling Network (NCN) which connects with many local routes across the county.
Local cycling maps for all districts are available from local libraries and you can find out more at www.staffordshire.gov.uk.