Avoid Main Walks During Covid-19 Outbreak

UPDATE 27/03/’20 8:45pm: Following the Taoiseach’s press conference this evening, it has been announced that from midnight tonight, the public has been asked to remain at home for the next 2 weeks to help contain the spread of coronavirus. Exceptions include that people may exercise alone within a 2km radius of their home. The public will be permitted to leave their homes to buy food or household goods, attend medical appointments and vital family reasons.

Walkers in Sligo are being asked to avoid the most popular walks like Knocknarea, Strandhill and the Ben Bulben Forest Walk this weekend to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Last Sunday – Mother’s Day – these walks were particularly busy, leading to traffic congestion and difficulties for walkers to maintain social distancing.

“These walks remain open, but we would advise the public not to do these walks, or at the very least to head out early in the morning to avoid other walkers,” said Michael Carty of Sligo County Council, who added that other major walks at Rosses Point and Enniscrone have also been subject to congestion. “There are detailed links to approximately 50 different routes and walks on the SligoWalks.ie website. Many of these are much quieter, if no less beautiful, and we’d recommend people visit some of these walks to avoid crowds.”

With the weather expected to provide plenty of sunshine this weekend, the most popular walks are still likely to be busy, and while pathways along these walks usually provide plenty of space to enable walkers to keep at least 2 metres distance between them, there are ‘pinch points’ on some of these walks, where it’s unavoidable that walkers come into much closer contact.

“The boardwalk on the Queen Maeve Trail on Knocknarea, for example, is one of those where the access route narrows, and if you have walkers congregating on that stretch of the walk, it’s inevitable that people will be in closer contact than they should,” adds Deirdre Kennedy of Sligo Leader, who are involved in the maintenance and management of the walks.

Walk in groups of no more than four – photo SligoWalks.ie

Coillte manage the forest walks in Sligo, and they point to increased traffic volumes at some of these walks since the outbreak began, leading to several related problems.

“The Ben Bulben Forest walk car park at Gortarowey is located on a narrow road off the N16,” says Michael Donlon of Coillte. “Last Sunday there was serious traffic congestion along this access route and in the main car park at the start of the walk. This caused problems not only for people trying to access the walks themselves, but also for the local people in the area, who found it difficult to get in and out of their homes.”

Michael also points out that under no circumstances should cars block the entrances either to Coillte property or to private homes. People who park their cars carelessly in this manner risk blocking the route for other road users, including emergency vehicles that may be called to the scene of an accident.

Government advice during the Covid-19 outbreak is to maintain at least 2 metres distance between you and other walkers and to follow other sensible rules. These are outlined on a separate post on the SligoWalks.ie website. But avoiding what are likely to be busy walks should be a priority for all of us. Should you decide to head out walking this weekend, choose a walk that is less well known. A new walk will provide an invigorating and interesting experience. Sligo is well served with the large numbers of clearly marked routes all around the county, and we recommend you take in some of the lesser known ones while this health crisis continues.

As the days and weeks progress, Government policy on walking in public parks and recreational areas may change. Currently the majority of parks remain open, but should it be decided that congestion in these locations is leading to a spread of the virus, then they may decide to take action. This could include restricting access to these areas, or even closing them, and this would be a major setback, in particular considering the positive mental and physical benefits offered by walking.

So, please avoid walking hot spots this weekend, get out and explore the hidden Sligo, you might find a few surprise walks which will become part of your regular walking itinerary when things begin to return to normality.

Visit SligoWalks.ie for information on distance, level of difficulty, maps and other advice on each of the waymarked walks in Sligo.