Derry & Strabane Rural Partnership awards £250K to walking trail project
03 November 2020
Upgrade work has commenced on 66km of walking trail through rural Tyrone, part of a cross border project to enhance the Ulster-Ireland section of the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) aimed at attracting domestic and international tourists.
The work is part of the wider development of the Ulster Irish section of the IAT, which is approximately 485km in length and runs from West Donegal to Larne passing through six council areas; each area represented by a Local Action Group (LAG).
It starts at the spectacular Slieve League cliffs, passes through Glencolmcille, traverses the Bluestack Mountains in Donegal before crossing into Tyrone where it picks up the Ulster Way, taking in the Sperrins, the stunning North Coast and the Glens of Antrim.
The focus of this package will concentrate on enhancing the domestic and international visitor experience of the Derry-Strabane section from Killeter Forest – the most westerly part of Tyrone at the border with County Donegal - and ending at the upper reaches of the Glenelly Valley in the Sperrin Mountains. Works include installation of additional waymarking signage and interpretation panels, new trail furniture, as well as key amenity enhancement at both Killeter Forest and Barnes.
Speaking about the investment, Deputy Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Alderman Graham Warke said: "Derry and Strabane Rural Partnership's allocation of £250k to develop and improve the walking trail infrastructure is part of a significant commitment by Council and the LAG to the delivery of the Ulster Ireland section of the International Appalachian Trail.
"The development of our Derry-Strabane walking trails is a key action within the Derry City and Strabane District Tourism Strategy. It has the potential to attract many domestic and international visitors to the region and generate significant economic benefit, particularly in the hospitality and food and beverage sectors."
The International Appalachian Trail is one of the world's largest trail networks with routes in a range of countries including the United States, Canada and throughout Europe.
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 on the Derry and Strabane section of the walking trail is a significant milestone.
"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."
As well improvements to the Derry and Strabane section of the trail, five other council areas (Donegal, Fermanagh & Omagh, Mid Ulster, Causeway Coast and Glens and Mid & East Antrim) will be making improvements to their own sections as part of works costing over £600,000. The widespread investment is the result of a collaborative effort by each council area; working together to ensure the overall visitor experience is improved across the entire trail for both locals and tourists. By enhancing the visitor experience on the trail, the improvements will have the potential to attract more domestic and international visitors and therefore generate substantial economic benefit for the businesses along the route and within the wider area.
Mary Hunter, Chair of the Derry and Strabane Rural Partnership (LAG), who administers Rural Development Funding for the region, added: "We are delighted to be the lead partner on behalf of the other participating Council areas.
"We have worked collectively as a co-operation project to ensure we have enhanced the trail 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 cooperation is realised as we rapidly move towards the roll-out of the Ulster Ireland section of this international trail with work to be completed by April 2021."
As part of the effort to attract more local, national and international visitors there is also significant investment being directed towards a project to promote the trail worth almost £120,000. Marketing campaigns in Ireland and North America will be led by Outdoor Recreation NI, an organisation with extensive experience in promoting walking trails to locals and tourists, towards the end of 2021.
Members of the public are advised that to facilitate the work, from Monday 2nd November 2020, Big Bridge Carpark will be closed for a four-week period and Barnes Carpark will close for ten weeks while contractors are on site.