Many of you walking in Sligo recently will be aware of significant changes at some of the most popular walking locations around the county. This involves the extension of certain walks, as well as the improvement in important infrastructure to aid access and safety at others.
This week we’ll introduce you to some of these changes in the company of Brian McGarraghy, who is Coillte Manager for Sligo. Coillte have worked in cooperation with Sligo County Council and Sligo Leader over a number of years to build new walks and upgrade existing ones, and this work, while often unnoticed by the public, has had major benefits for communities and visitors alike.
I met Brian at the entrance to the Benbulben Forest Trail, where work is currently underway to expand the car park as well as to widen the narrow access road to the trail head at Gortarowey.
The Benbulben Forest Trail is one of Sligo’s most popular walks, but Brian points out that this comes with challenges, not least to accommodate increasing numbers of walkers, especially since the pandemic began.
“We’re in the process of putting in a brand new car park, which should hold around 60-70 cars, and it will have a new route coming out. It should be a great addition for local people and for people coming here from all over the country.”
The Benbulben Forest Walk has been modified several times over recent years. A number of looped walks are now available to visitors, and improvements in signage have also been added. It really is a lovely place to spend a couple of hours, walking along the base of the towering presence of the mountain.
Elsewhere around the county, other projects have also seen improvements recently, including at Rathscanlon on the outskirts of Tubbercurry, further along the road at scenic Lough Talt and nearer to Sligo at the popular walks at Dooney Rock and Slish Wood.
With so much focus now being placed on healthy outdoor living to promote both our physical and mental wellbeing, communities must look with envy at progress made by their neighbours in the development of walks on their doorstep. But Brian emphasises that Coillte’s door is very much open when it comes to engagement with people about creating new walks.
So how do villages and communities contact Coillte about the development of walks through forests and woodland in their locality?
“If you have something which is of interest in the local area, you can go onto the Coillte Outdoor site, and there’s a section there where it says – we’d like a proposal. That’s how it all starts.”
From there, Coillte will engage with the community, look at the potential viability of the site, and, following an initial consultation process, works can then commence. Obviously there’s time and commitment required from members of the community to get this over the line, but we have many examples in Sligo and elsewhere where this model has been successful, like in nearby Carney Village.
But as Brian says, the development of the walk is one thing, the follow up afterwards to maintain and promote the walk within the community is where the real benefits can accrue.
“To me it’s important that we do the job. But when the job is done, the work starts. Basically (the challenges include) litter, and things like that, but having good community people, it deals with that kind of stuff for us. They’ve taken ownership of the place, and to me, without those people, I couldn’t do my job.”
Brian has been working with Coillte for over 30 years, and is passionate about the development of woodland walks here in Sligo. There’s also some wonderful work underway at Hazelwood, which is one of our national forest parks – this will be featured in a separate Sligo Walks article in the coming months.
Like all of us, Brian is looking forward to seeing many people out and about over the Christmas season, and he reminds us to ensure that – while enjoying the walks, to abide by Leave No Trace principles. By bringing home our rubbish we will ensure that these spectacular walks on our doorstep are there for all to enjoy.