IT is one of Dorset’s most popular family destinations, as well as a draw for golfers.

Moors Valley Country Park celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

Wimborne District Council bought Kings Farm, an 82-acre dairy farm next to Ringwood Forest, in the mid-1980s.

The Evening Echo reported in August 1985 that some wanted the meadow there to remain as it was, rather than become a golf course.

“Birds or birdies, orchids or golf balls – that is the heartache facing the council,” the paper reported.

Over the following months, a nine-acre lake was constructed at the park, together with the first nine holes of the golf course. The first section of track for a railway was laid by Narrowgauge Ltd, which had previously been at Tucktonia.

The park welcomed its first visitors that July and was a success from its early days.

For a visitor centre, the park bought an 18th century timber barn from a farm at Eastern Royal near Marlborough, and moved it to Dorset. The centre opened in 1987 and the second half of the barn was moved to Moors Valley in 1990, sited at right angles to the existing building, allowing the tea room to expand and a country shop to open.

The Echo reported in August 1986 how the “young boy’s dream of owning his own railway has come true for two local businessmen”. They were David Ironside and Jim Haylock, partners in a carpet firm, who had opened the mile-long, seven-and-a-quarter inch narrow gauge railway.

By 1988, the Echo was reporting that the park was enormously popular but “could become a victim of its own success”.

Park warden David Crompton said: “The park has got to a stage where I believe that unless people are careful, the district council is going to have to assess the visitor numbers coming to the site. Otherwise it will suffer irreparably.”

That summer, the golf course was finished and the park was officially opened by government minister William Waldegrave. The occasion was marked by a charity golf match.

Meanwhile, East Dorset District Council bought a second farm which would enable the park to expand to 250 acres.

East Dorset Countryside Management Service was set up to manage the park and other council sites, while a second lake, Crane Lake, was created.

In May 1992, broadcaster Esther Rantzen and her husband, the TV producer Desmond Wilcox, opened a £30,000 adventure play trail built by the Forestry Commission.

Car park charges were introduced that year, and the car park was extended to cater for an expected 750,000 annual visitors.

A host of other attractions would be added in the following years, including cycle hire in 1995 and the Go Ape high ropes attraction in 2003.

Head ranger Clare Gronow, who has been with the park for its full 30 years, took over from Tim Dixon as manager in 2004.

Education and conservation continued to be a large part of the park’s remit and water voles were reintroduced to the Moors River in 2011-12. There have been 115 bird species recorded there, 33 species of butterfly and 27 of damselfly.

The park has won a succession of trophies, including two golds in the South West Tourism Excellence Awards this year. Communication ranger Katie Davies is in up for a national Tourism Superstar award with VisitEngland.

But the park’s success may be best seen in its visitor numbers, which stand at 22million since its opening.