Commitment to increase trails in the Walks Scheme

Payments are made to about 1,900 landholders to maintain 39 recreational walking trails around the country, and the Department of Rural and Community Development now invites expressions of interest from trail management committees, community groups and other similar entities for developed trails to be added to the Department’s Walks Scheme.

This scheme facilitates the development and maintenance of many of Ireland’s walking trails. It assists in provision of high quality walking trails by private landholders, by contracting them, or their nominees, to undertake maintenance work on sections of national waymarked ways and other priority walks that traverse their lands.

Rural and Community Development Minister Michael Ring said the Programme for a Partnership Government includes a commitment to increase the number of walks covered by the scheme.

“In line with this commitment, funding for the scheme was doubled in Budget 2019, from €2 million to €4 million, to allow this expansion to proceed.”

He said he was initiating a review of the Walks Scheme which will inform decisions regarding its expansion of the scheme.

Who can submit expressions of interest?

Formal expressions of interest will only be accepted from local authorities and/or local development companies. Other interested groups (such as trail management committees, community groups) should make contact with these bodies to commence the process.

What kind of recreational trails are being sought?

Since the Walks Scheme was launched in 2008, it has included national waymarked ways, looped walking routes and heritage routes, along with other trails that have been approved by the National Trails Office.

The scheme only operates where there is agreement on the entire walk, it is not available for part of a walk. Participants in the Walks Scheme undertake to complete the enhancement and maintenance of the trails.

Qualifying trails must be available to the public, must be of a suitable standard to be included in Sport Ireland’s trail register, and must have all private landowners along the entire route willing to allow access to the public and willing to join the scheme.

Trails that do not have all of the necessary elements in place at the time of application will not be considered. Applicant groups will also be required to outline a health and wellbeing, tourism or economic case, for the inclusion of the trail under the scheme.

Who uses recreational trails?

The most recent figures available from Fáilte Ireland show that in 2014, close to 1.2 million visitors to Ireland took part in hiking or cross- country walking. These activity tourists spent in the region of €915 million in the Irish economy during their stay. Similar statistics reveal that 286,000 visitors took part in cycling activities with a related spend of some €268 million. These two sectors combined generated revenue for the Irish economy in the region of €1.2 billion in 2014. Many Irish tourists also enjoy the walking trails.

Where can I learn more about opening a walking trail?

There’s a one-day course on Walking Trail Planning on Wednesday, March 27, from 9am to 5pm in the Abbeyleix Manor Hotel in Co Laois. It will equip learners with the skills and confidence necessary to navigate the trail planning process.

The course is open to any individual with an interest in and a passion for the outdoors, but will be of particular interest to local group members developing or upgrading a walking trail; staff with a trails brief in local authorities or national bodies; and trails managers looking to upgrade or expand their role.

The course details are on the eventbrite.ie website.

However, despite the dangers involved, both were confident that, having spent the past seven months training progressively colder waters around Ireland, they have “acclimatised” their bodies for what lies ahead.

They have also regularly been joined on training sessions by the former Shannon, Munster, and Ireland rugby player Rosie Foley, a sister of the late Munster and Irish rugby star Anthony Foley, which has given them an added confidence boost.

Ryan, a father of three from Granville Park, says: “Initially you do get cold water shock, but you acclimatise your body to it, you just get on with it.”

“I actually go very red myself. Afterwards, I try and get dry as quickly as possible. There’s a bit of madness about it, but it’s good fun and its a good experience.”

“We’re not the greatest swimmers in the world, but to represent your country is a very proud thing to be able to do,” he adds.

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