The Minister for Rural and Community Development has said the opening of 10 new walking trails as part of government plans to double the total number of trails around the country is a win-win situation for both landowners and walkers.
Minister Michael Ring announced the addition of the new trails to the Walks Scheme operated by his Department, covering hundreds of kilometres in counties Clare, Tipperary, Sligo, Wicklow, Galway, Kilenny, Laois and Leitrim.
There are currently 39 trails covered by the Walks Scheme, involving 1,962 participant landowners and farmers, but it is planned to increase the number to 80 trails.
All of the new trails include sections of privately owned land, including 24km split between 120 owners on the newly announced Leitrim Way.
Private landowners who sign up to the trails scheme must maintain the trails and receive annual funding to do so, with the scheme administered in each area by Local Development Companies.
The Minister's Department said that the opening up of new trails comes at a time of increasing interest - last year almost 2.7 million overseas visitors engaged in some form of cross country walking or hiking here.
Last year €1.8m was paid to 1,962 farmers and landowners who participated in the scheme.
Minister Ring acknowledged the role played by private landowners in helping to facilitate what he said was an economic boost.
“This expansion reflects the success of the Walks Scheme to-date in delivering high quality walking trails, and will help realise the Government’s commitment to double the number of trails in the scheme over time," the Minister said. "Up to 40 new trails will be added when all phases of the expansion are complete.
“This first phase of the expansion will see an additional 283 participants receive payments for maintaining 10 separate trails located across eight counties.
“These trails run for a combined length of approximately 500km, with 174 km of this going through private lands.
"This is good news for landowners and for the ever-increasing number of people who want to get out and experience the beautiful outdoor areas that we have in such abundance. Investing in our trails also pays economic dividends. Thousands of tourists make walking, hiking, and other outdoor pursuits an important part of their stay in Ireland.”
The latest expansion of the scheme follows a call for Expressions of Interest earlier this year which saw more than 50 applications being received.
The Minister said up to 30 more walks will be added over the next year after the Department completes a review of the Scheme and further trails are assessed.
Dr Liam Twomey, chairperson of Comhairle na Tuaithe (The Countryside Council), also welcomed the announcement.
"Comhairle na Tuaithe has received a renewed mandate from Minister Ring to support the sustainable development of the outdoor recreation sector in Ireland and the expansion of the Walks Scheme is one of a number of promising initiatives that I expect will assist the sector in delivering on its potential," he said.