The uphill battle to restore our walkways

Locals are helping to conserve the terrain for future generations, says Dan MacCarthy

The uphill battle to restore our walkways

THERE are tens of thousands of hillwalkers in Ireland. That’s a lot of boots crushing earth and stone, wearing away the terrain.

Several organisations, including Mountaineering Ireland, the representative body for hillwalkers, preserve our mountains and hills. The group’s conservation officer, Helen Lawless, liaises with clubs to “to guide the management of path erosion in Ireland’s upland areas”. It wants those principles adopted nationally in the repair of upland paths.

Mountain Meitheal repair damage to hills and mountains. Their outreach programme advises new meitheal groups on how to conserve and restore areas. They provide training and equipment. The group promotes responsible recreation. From 2006 to 2012, Mountain Meitheal has contributed 13,760 volunteer hours.

A new meitheal has been established in Co Tipperary to clean up the Galtee Mountains.

Guide and mountain rescue worker, Jimmy Barry, says: “If we don’t start giving back, we’re going to lose what we have and we’re going to lose the respect of the landowners and everybody else involved. Mountain meitheal has been going for 10 years in Co Wicklow and the success they’ve had there, and in other places, is just unreal,” says Jimmy.

Members of hillwalking groups in the region, including Limerick Walking Club, Cork Mountaineering Club, The Peaks Walking Club, Galtee Walking Club, Ballyhoura Walking Club, and others, came together in the Glen of Aherlow to look at Cush Mountain and the work to be done. Thirty people gathered to clean up or rebuild pathways.

Training, insurance and planning provide a structure.

“We’ve been cleaning up on the Galtees for the last four or five years, and out of that grew the nucleus of today’s group, including Fergus Flynn, from the Limerick Mountaineering Club, and Máire Ní Mhurchú, from Cork Mountaineering Club,” says Jimmy.

The group will make regular sorties to the mountains to prevent disrepair. Jimmy points out repair work undertaken on the track eight years ago, including a waterbar and steps to alleviate erosion. Track stripped bare for forestry works was also restored eight years ago.

“You can’t just go out on to the hills and start working, somebody owns it. Either Coillte owns it or it’s private land. So we have to bring all those people with us. We will submit the plan to Duchas, Coillte and local authorities, and, most importantly, the local landowner, so that we can put in a couple of steps here, or put in a track there to make it better for walkers. “Because if we don’t start now, we’ve lost it. Today, we have an opportunity,” Jimmy says.

Meitheal volunteer Mary Conway says: “I like the idea of giving something back in return for all the great days and adventures I’ve had on the hills, and Mountain Meitheal seems like an ideal way to do something practical in this regard.” With Mountain Meitheal South East now established, winter will be for training and for workdays. The Galtees now join a list of mountains in good hands.

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*Mountain to climb: the highest of rubbish dumps

People discard their rubbish on regular mountain walks and on famous ones. The international ‘leave no trace’ campaign has kept mountains pristine, but new trekkers must be educated. Mount Everest is the highest rubbish dump, with 120 tons of garbage. Climbers jettison worn-out gear, food, plastic wrappers, tins and tents. The intrepid mountaineer could find a readymade kit. China is limiting its access, but the more popular route is from the cash-hungry Nepalese side. However, an organisation called Eco Everest Expedition recently set out to partially clear the trails of waste.

Kilimanjaro is infamous for human faeces and toilet paper at its ‘toilets’. That is mainly due to bad facilities. But here, too, people who proclaim to love the mountains have no problem leaving behind plastic wrappers, gear and any material they aren’t bothered to carry. Take only photographs, leave only footprints.

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