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Uncovering the North West’s International Appalachian Trail

12 September 2016

The Appalachian Mountains have attracted millions of walking enthusiasts to the East Coast of North America for over 75 years but work is well under way towards tapping into their tourism potential on this side of the Atlantic. 

The mountains’ primary walking trail has gone international and its route, branded as the International Appalachian Trail (IAT), now extends into Europe crossing through a range of countries including Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, Brittany and Spain.

The Derry City and Strabane District Council area sits at the heart of the Ireland section of the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) and on Thursday September 22nd it will be the point of focus for the entire international trail when it hosts their AGM.

“This is a great opportunity to showcase the wonderful walking product on offer within our region,” said Council’s Tourism Officer Philip McShane. “Delegates attending the AGM will not only be engaging in the serious work of developing the trail but will also participate in guided tours taking in the full breathtaking range of scenery that surrounds us.

“Slieve League in Donegal, the Sperrins and the Glenelly Valley in our own district as well as the Causeway Coast are just a number of the locations our guests will have the opportunity to enjoy.

“The message we will be pushing to delegates is that you haven’t walked and enjoyed the full International Appalachian Trail experience until you have completed the Ireland section of the trail.”

Philip, who also sits on the working group of the Ireland IAT, continued by underlining some of the progress made by the local body to date.

“We formally launched the Ireland route in 2013 after initially joining the Ireland IAT in 2010,” he explained. “The route itself runs from the spectacular Slieve League cliffs, passing through Glencolmcille and the Bluestack Mountains before crossing the border into Tyrone and the Derg Valley.It then progresses to and through the Sperrins, up to the North Coast and Glens of Antrim before finishing in Larne.

“The steps we have taken to develop the route to date are relatively modest compared to the ambitions we have for the end product. Hosting the conference though will be a major boost to its profile and we believe if it is developed properly it can be a significant addition to our tourism offering and have a similar brand impact as the Wild Atlantic Way.”    

For many the Appalachian mountain range conjures up images of duelling banjos and miles upon miles of forested American hillside but the local link is something most people are unaware of, yet has been millions of years in the making. 

While North America has long been considered their home, when the mountains were actually formed 250 million years ago the continents of Europe, Africa and America were landlocked and formed part of the vast Central Pangean Mountains.

When today’s continents separated to form the Atlantic Ocean, remnants of the Appalachians and Caledonian terrain ended up in eastern United States, eastern Canada and around northern Europe.

When expansion of the entire IAT is completed it will be the largest trail network in the world and has the potential to be a major outdoor adventure brand with a presence in 21 countries, three continents and a home market of over 800 million people.

Later this week Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Sperrins and Killeter Walking Festival will provide the perfect opportunity for walking enthusiasts to reconnect with our lost Appalachian heritage when it hosts two new walks in recognition of that connection.

The 15km ‘Origins of the Ulster Appalachian Way’ walk this Saturday will guide hikers through the Sperrins and tell the ancient story of the trail while on Sunday, the more moderate 8km ‘Development of the Ulster Appalachian Trail’ will leave Killeter.

For more information and to register for a place on any of the walks go to www.sperrinskilleterwalking.com.