The head of the Lake District National Park Authority in Cumbria says the rugged landscape excludes too many people and must change to attract a more diverse mix of visitors.
His warning comes after attempts to make the UNESCO World Heritage site more inclusive have sparked a series of rows with conservationists.
The authority is facing a High Court judicial review in the New Year over its refusal to ban 4×4 vehicles from some fell trails, while Keswick Town Council has passed a vote of no confidence in it over the creation of a tarmac path through woodland.
But Richard Leafe, the park authority’s long-standing chief executive, said that to ensure continued public funding the national park must adapt in small ways.
“We need to be able to sell the national park to everybody in Britain, all society, and it’s important that it doesn’t just become exclusive to one single use group,” he said.
“The moment we get into that position I think national parks start to lose their relevance and therefore the very reason for calling it a national park and spending public money.”
Research shows visitors to the Lake District, where the rugged fells inspired the romantic poets and author Beatrix Potter, are too heavily weighted towards older, able-bodied white people.
But conservationists have accused the park authority of launching an attack on the beauty and tranquillity of the area.
A crowdfunding effort to challenge the authority’s “refusal to stop 4x4s and motorbikes ruining one of the most beautiful places in England” has raised more than £30,000 and will go to the High Court in 2020.
Meanwhile, an £8m project to create an accessible multi-user trail with a tarmac surface between Keswick and Threlkeld has been condemned by Keswick Town Council.
The scheme, which will be completed at the end of 2020, was designed to replace a traditional stone-surfaced path that was destroyed by Storm Desmond in 2015.