Two of the most popular walks in Sligo are set to be part of a research programme which aims to improve the quality of walking in Sligo. The Queen Maeve Trail on Knocknarea and the Killaspugbrone looped walk in Strandhill are among 8 walks in the region selected in a pilot programme being conducted throughout the EU Atlantic area.
This project will examine the contribution that investment in walks and recreational infrastructure makes to the local economy and develop new and innovative ways to encourage visitors off the paths and into the surrounding local and rural communities to immerse themselves in new cultural, culinary and life experiences.
Entitled the Trail Gazers Bid, the project will look at ways in which the public engages with the overall walking experience, from their reactions to the quality of the trail infrastructure through to the broader engagement with the local tourism offering.
The project will focus on the rise of what is known as experiential travel. People prefer to spend their holidays seeking out more meaningful and personal experiences in beautiful locations that are often perceived as ‘off the beaten track’ rather than in conventional or popular holiday destinations. Travel is now more about appreciating the way of life these hidden gems can offer; learning about local history, cultural and natural landscapes and embarking on voyages of self-discovery that will stay with the person long after the holiday has finished.
The project will enable all members of the community to share ideas and provide feedback on the walks as well as the broader tourism and social offering, and this will form valuable feedback, which could guide the direction for future walks infrastructure planning and development.
“In recent years, we have been able to gather some information on walking in Sligo,” says Michael Carty, Sligo County Council’s project coordinator for the project. “People counters at different locations give us feedback on how many people walk along certain trails in Sligo, but this doesn’t tell us anything more, like where people are from or what encouraged them to walk this trail. What this new project will enable us to do is to advance our knowledge of the walking experience by gathering much more data than we have been able to access up until now.”
Once walking restrictions have been lifted, walkers will be asked a series of questions by groups of volunteers. These will range from the reasons they walk, to where they have travelled from, how long they expect to stay in the area and what other things they plan to do while they are here. In addition, feedback will be looked for on the quality of the walks themselves.
The information gathered from this new project will enable local authorities and tourism agencies to improve the walks offering for tourists as well as for local walking clubs. Current research reveals that there are many reasons people walk, for example for both physical and mental wellbeing. The growth in walking and recreational activity has huge potential to generate income for rural areas, helping to create more jobs in the hospitality and leisure sectors, whilst also enhancing the attractiveness of these regions as places to live, work and thrive.
While we must await the reopening of walks following the Covid-19 crisis before this initiative can get underway in Sligo, the project has already been launched in Buncrana, Co. Donegal. Last month, the first project advisory group meeting took place, setting out the broad objectives for the project.
This project has 10 partners from different regions in Ireland, the UK, Spain, Portugal and France, all of which are passionate about examining how the right type of investment in walks and recreational trail can grow small rural communities, increase the number of visitors and future proof destination management places to protect the area’s natural and cultural assets.
For more updates visit SligoWalks.ie.