Over 40 delegates from 5 countries across Europe have launched a new walking project which could have a significant and positive impact on walking in Sligo. The new website – www.trailgazers.eu – was launched virtually earlier this month, with the aim of exploring the impact of walking and recreational trails on sustaining rural communities and it also looks at innovative ways to enhance the impact of these facilities on people living in these areas.
“This programme could provide significant advantages for Sligo and the North West,” said Michael Carty of Sligo County Council, and a member of the Sligo Walks team. “By pooling the expertise available across different countries, this will enable us to plan and develop the walks in Sligo to the best international standards, and will also provide information and incentives to walkers from other countries to visit the region.
Sligo has undertaken huge work in recent years to provide a platform for people to enjoy walking in Sligo. As well as the many waymarked trails across the county, Sligo has been to the fore in engaging with local communities to plan and develop their own walking amenities. The Trailgazers initiative will not only provide opportunities to draw down funding to develop this kind of work further, but it should ensure that walking becomes one of the county’s main tourism platforms.
Two of the most popular walks in Sligo are set to be part of a research project as part of the new Trailgazers programme. 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.
Trailgazers will also 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 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 Mr. Carty. “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.”
In the coming months, walkers in Sligo can expect to encounter volunteers who will ask a number of questions. 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.
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.