Lighting up the path to Sheffield's country park

SHEFFIELD'S inner city country park grew a step closer last weekend as the evil Baba Yagr was again defeated by a combination of the Firebird, Lord Fox and the children of Watercliffe Meadows School.

And down below, the even more malodorous landfill site of Parkwood Springs was finally granted its death warrant.

"We now know the date for the shutting of the landfill site," said woodlands officer Jon Dallow happily. "The end date is 2018 and in ten years we'll have this huge area of green space in the heart of the city, so tonight's event is starting to celebrate that and look towards it."

Beacons 2, The Story Continues, is how Jon Dallow described the latest chapter in the fictional saga of Parkwood Springs, as told by local storyteller Shonaleigh and a collection of eerily masked actors, fire jugglers, sculptors and firework artists.

The story of the children, their grandma, the Firebird and Lord Fox (and the villain Baba Yagr) was partly written by youngsters from Watercliffe and had the theme of recognising that grandparents often had exciting lives of their own when they were younger, explained Shonaleigh.

"The grandma in the story had adventures with the firebird, who was born on the same day. She liked to eat chillies and fart – that's from the children. You've got to go with it, haven't you?"

Indeed. And on the night the local children and families went with it, too, as the fox-faced dancers lit their flares and traipsed through the woods and enacted their strange rituals in the dusk, while the onlookers took pictures with their mobiles.

The 'Thread of Fire' event, which also included sculptures and fireworks from Handspring Design, was part of this year's Off The Shelf festival and part-funded by theArts Council, Sheffield Town Trust and through landfill tax credits.

"This event is all about celebrating one of the biggest areas of green space in the city," said Jon Dallow. "At 145 hectares Parkwood Springs is as big as Hyde Park in London. The potential of this site is huge."

Sheffield's Country Park won't just arrive ready-made in 2018, said Jon. The site, a former deer park two miles long and up to a mile wide, already has a network of paths, the ski village, football pitches, an awesome viewpoint over the city and habitats ranging from ancient woodland in the north to heathland in the south.

Work is already being carried out on some of the paths and a consultation process with locals is ongoing. This year also saw the arrival of the iron 'Boy and Bird' sculpture by local artist Jason Tomson, just off Rutland Road.

The next project is the development of a series of mountain bike routes and facilities – a 100,000 Sport Lottery Fund bid is being 'tweaked', said Jon Dallow, and will hopefully lead to a six kilometre series of routes around the site suitable for family cycling or competitive mountain biking.

"Steve Peat sees the potential here," said Jon, of Sheffield's world champion mountain biker.

"Sheffield is becoming the mountain biking centre of the country, just like it is for climbing, and we could be training the mountain biking champions of the future here at Parkwood Springs."

The foxes and families and children made their way through the woods, past the 'wish ribbons' made by local children (I wish I had a dog, I wish I had a horse and carriage, I wish I had a mountain bike) and up to the finale on the Parkwood hill top, where fire jugglers set the scene for the final part of the story and the defeat of Baba Yagr illustrated by a firework display.

Lord Fox lost his waistcoat, said Shonaleigh, a crucial plot development for his starring role in 2009 in Beacons 3. "It will be bigger and better next year."

Just like Sheffield's developing county park, it seems. The paths and bike trails will slowly take shape, as the landfill grows smaller and the resulting methane is taken off for electricity. And Jon Dallow hopes more and more people will come to appreciate the views and countryside already on offer.

"We hope people will come here for their day out instead of Derbyshire, or maybe local people will come here to the park on their doorstep and then go out to the Peak District for the first time.

"If we can show people that whatever problems you have, you can walk out your door and run round the park, cycle through the woods or go to your allotment or whatever, it shows the value of this place to the individual and the family and the community," says Jon. "Parkwood Springs is about the health and wellbeing of the people of this city."

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