WALKERS and ramblers in Mid Ulster and further afield could soon have an exciting new route to explore.
Last week, Mid Ulster Council announced that a total of £28,413 in funding has been secured to carry out improvements to nine miles of walking trail as part of a cross border cooperation project within the Rural Development Programme to enhance the development of the International Appalachian Trail (IAT).
The focus of the funding package will concentrate on the section in Mid Ulster which runs from Glenelly Road along the Derry-Tyrone county border over Crockbrack Hill, Crockmore, through Moneyneany (near Draperstown) and into Moydamlaght Forest.
Works are due to start this month and include the installation of IAT branded interpretation, upgraded directional way-markers, furniture and counters along the nine mile stretch of walking trail, as well as a joint marketing initiative between all six partners.
Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, Councillor Cathal Mallaghan welcomed the investment, saying, “This project supported by Mid Ulster District Council, provides a great opportunity for Mid Ulster to be part of a unique international walking trail.
“The aims of the International Appalachian Trail echo Council priorities to promote our natural and cultural heritage, improve the health and well-being of our population, contribute to cross border cooperation and, vitally for our District, boost rural economic development through eco and geo tourism.
“The development of the new section of trail will further open the Sperrins to an international market and maximise the use and the potential of existing walking trails such as Hudy’s Way and Moydamlaght, by adding value to the existing walks and helping to entice visitors to stay in the local area for longer.”
Conor Corr who is chairperson of Mid Ulster Rural Development Partnership said, “Local Action Group (LAG) Co-operation forms an important part of the LEADER Local Rural Development Strategy for Mid Ulster. It provides the opportunity for joint working between LAGs in different areas needed to develop innovative initiatives such as the International Appalachian Trail project.
“Our LAG Board members have been working closely with Mid Ulster District Council during the development phase of this project to bring a good local working knowledge of the area to the table which will continue throughout the implementation stage as well.”
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 Mid Ulster section of the walking 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.”
The International Appalachian Trail is one of the largest trail networks in the world with route legs in a range of countries including the United States, Canada and throughout Europe. The Irish section of the International Appalachian Trail is approximately 302miles/485km in length and runs from west Donegal to Larne passing through six council areas.
As well improvements to the Mid Ulster section of the trail, five other councils will be making improvements to their own sections. 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.