World Famous Walking Trail set to make its mark in Ireland with Funding Boost from Rural Development Programme.
Over £700,000 of investment for the Ulster-Ireland segment of the International Appalachian Trail has been secured through a cross-border cooperation project between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as part of the Rural Development Programme. The aim of the funding boost is to improve the trail and promote its awareness to local, national and international visitors.
At a time when getting outdoors has proven to be more popular than ever in the wake of lockdown, the beginning of improvement works on the 302mile/485km Irish section of the International Appalachian Trail will be welcome news to people across Ulster.
This section of the International Appalachian Trail is the continuation of one of the world’s largest trail networks from its origin in the USA, into Canada, Iceland, across to the island of Ireland and beyond. The route originates from a single mountain range that spanned thousands of miles on Pangea – the single huge landmass on Earth prior to the breakup of the continents around 175 million years ago.
Slieve League cliffs in Co. Donegal
The Ulster-Ireland segment begins on the west coast of Donegal at Slieve League and runs through council areas in Derry City and Strabane, Fermanagh and Omagh, Mid Ulster, Causeway Coast and Glens before finishing in Mid and East Antrim.
Capital investment on the trail will focus on improving the overall visitor experience by upgrading or rerouting the trail, overhauling trail infrastructure and signage as well as adding trail furniture and trail art. This will be welcome news to the many businesses that are based along the route and for whom this investment is intended to provide a substantial boost by attracting more visitors. In addition, the works will provide for the people who live along the route particularly given the dramatic increase in walking which was seen during lockdown.
Research carried out by Outdoor Recreation NI found that lockdown resulted in a growth of 35% in the number of people getting outdoors and who are in turn benefiting from the multitude of physical and mental health benefits this exercise brings. 41% of people reported that they walked on trails that were entirely or partially off road more often during lockdown and improving walking trails was one of the most commonly identified things which would improve local outdoor opportunities.
The scale of the project is vast, with over half a million pounds being spent in physical upgrades to the trail across six council areas. The widespread investment is the result of six Local Action Groups (LAGs) who administer Rural Development Programme funding for their area, working together on a joint initiative as part of a cooperation project to develop and enhance the trail. The participating LAG areas include Derry and Strabane, Causeway Coast and Glens, Fermanagh and Omagh, Mid Ulster, Mid and East Antrim and Donegal.
This coordinated approach to creating an internationally recognised product is being supplemented by additional investment of just under £120,000 to promote the trail to walkers in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the USA. Marketing campaigns in Ireland and North America will be executed by Outdoor Recreation NI, WalkNI’s parent company, towards the end of 2021 to increase visitors to the trail.
Paul Wylezol, Co-Chair of the International Appalachian Trail based in Canada said,
“The Ulster Ireland section will be an inspiring addition to the International Appalachian Trail story and the commencement of works across the entire trail is a significant milestone.
He added “with shared geological and cultural storylines, combined with uniquely Irish attractions, the developed Ulster Ireland section has great potential to attract a wide variety of North American walkers, from eco, geo and adventure tourists to fans of the well-known Game of Thrones television series.”
To American visitors the Appalachian Trail is a household name and the Ulster-Ireland section of the international route is the next step of the journey. With over 2 million walkers on the US section of trail every year, there is the real potential for a growth in visitors.
Across the six council areas, Derry City and Strabane District Council are the lead partner. Speaking about the investment, Mary Hunter, Chair of the Derry and Strabane Rural Partnership (LAG), said,
“We are delighted to be the lead partner on behalf of the other participating councils in Donegal, Fermanagh & Omagh, Mid Ulster, Causeway Coast and Glens, and Mid & East Antrim. We have worked collectively as a co-operation project to ensure we have enhanced the trails and explored all local tourism potential that our connection with the International Appalachian Trail will undoubtedly bring. We will continue to work together to ensure the full economic and social potential of this link-up is realised as we rapidly move towards the roll-out of the Ulster-Ireland section of this international trail.”
Trail improvements will begin within the next few weeks and should be finished by early 2021.