First steps for rural walkway project

A NEW era in rural tourism began at Sheep’s Head in west Cork over the weekend when the first of four publicly funded walkways was officially opened.

Sheep’s Head Walkway, along with Bluestack Way in Donegal, Suck Valley Way in Roscommon and Galway and Eamonn a’Chnoic Loop Walk in Tipperary were named last March by Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Minister Eamon Ó Cuív as pilot areas for a walks scheme.

It aims to ease the issues that have arisen in parts of the countryside in recent years over access by walkers to land for recreational purposes.

Under the scheme, landowners receive payments for the development, maintenance and enhancement of approved marked ways and looped walking routes through their land.

It is anticipated that when the scheme is bedded down in these four areas it will be rolled out to a further eight routes this year, with others coming on stream in 2009.

Irish Farmers’ Association president Pádraig Walshe, speaking at the launch of the Sheep’s Head Walkway in Ahakista, said it was an example of how the walkways scheme should be implemented across the country.

“Consultation and cooperation with landowners is the key to creating a successful walkway that can enhance rural tourism.

“Narrow legal solutions that have been suggested in the past are divisive and will never work,” he said.

Mr Walshe said the backing among landowners for the Sheep’s Head Walkway is an endorsement of the scheme that was agreed between the IFA and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

He said 180 farmers on the Sheep’s Head will participate in the scheme, maintaining walks over 195 kilometres and covering 17 commonages.

“This level of take-up illustrates how an incentive-based initiative can attract widespread support in the community,” he said.

Under the scheme, farmers are paid for the establishment and maintenance of walks. Payments are up to a maximum of €2,900 per annum under a five-year agreement.

The walks are being put in place by rural recreation officers in each of the areas.

IFA Hill Committee chairman Neilie O’Leary said the new LEADER companies and the recreation officers have a huge role to play in ensuring the establishment of walks is part of their local action plans, which are being submitted for approval.

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