A world famous polar explorer has thrown his weight behind a proposed £11.2m visitor centre in Northumberland.
Conrad Dickinson marched into the history books when he skied from Canada to the North Pole in 52 days and 12 hours in 2004.
Now, the adventure guru from Hexham is backing a £3.7m fund raising campaign to create a Landscape Discovery Centre as part of the wider Sill project.
The Sill centre on Hadrian’s Wall, which has a proposed opening date of 2016, has the potential to attract up to 120,000 new visitors annually.
Although plans have been drawn up, £3.7m in match funding is now needed to secure further Heritage Lottery funding.
Conrad, who is a staunch supporter of the National Park’s aims and objectives, is determined that plans for the Sill centre come to fruition.
“It will be a gateway for so many different aspects of the community,” he said. “We’ve got the landscape, the culture, the history and the wildlife to draw thousands of visitors annually.
“I’m particularly interested in the outdoor activities it will offer. It’s important that young people are urged to explore the national park and get away from their iPads and computer games.
“If I can help promote that part of the project in any way, then I will.”
Conrad, who is an ex-Army captain and an expert in Arctic warfare, is busy preparing for his latest Polar expedition.
Next month, he will lead a small group of wounded soldiers in a fund raising race to the South Pole, which includes Prince Harry.
In the South Pole, team members will have to work together and communicate well in order to ski for 12 hours a day pulling sleds with their supplies.
“I’ve taken Harry and the rest of the team over to Iceland and Norway to train,” said Conrad. “The last month’s been about intense training and getting every member of the team ready for what they’re about to face.
“On the back of that, this facility at the Sill will provide the opportunity for disabled people to take part in outdoor activities.” The Sill will replace the existing 1960s visitor centre and Youth Hostel at Once Brewed in the central section of Hadrian’s Wall world heritage site.
The vision is for a centre which will transform how people experience and learn about landscapes and conservation across Northumberland National Park.
During the building phase, which is planned between 2014 and 2016, the £8.88m investment to fund the development and construction of the facility will support the equivalent of over 100 jobs.