The development of the many beautiful walks in Sligo has taken years of planning, investment and labour, not to mention co-operation and goodwill involving local and national agencies, landowners and of course the walking communities themselves. This week we look at the work of one of these groups. Sligo Leader, and their work in developing the walks and trails of Sligo.
County Sligo was one of twelve areas selected nationally to operate a scheme to develop Rural Recreation in 2008 including the appointment of a Rural Recreation Officer and the roll out of the Walks Scheme.
Since then, Sligo LEADER Partnership’s Rural Recreation Officer, Deirdre Kennedy has worked to support communities, landowners, local and national agencies in the development, maintenance and promotion of trail based outdoor recreation in County Sligo for locals and tourists alike.
While the main focus for the first three years of the programme was the development of walking trails in Sligo, the brief of the Rural Recreation Officer has changed in recent years to place a greater emphasis on the development, co-ordination and promotion of the broader recreation product. There is huge potential for the positive exploitation of the range of geographic amenities that the county possesses: mountains, inland waterways, coast etc. and the activities that can happen there.
The Rural Recreation Officer works in conjunction with Sligo County Council as part of the Sligo Walks team to support and assist communities to develop a variety of trails from short loop walks to long distance trails and providing walking tourists with support and advice. Deirdre also works with community groups and small business enterprises to access advice, support and funding for the development and improvement of recreational projects, activity tourism and related infrastructure.
Another element of the role of the Rural Recreation Officer is to liaise with both landowners and maintenance teams on the upkeep of trails and to assist with negotiations to resolve access disputes through dialogue and participation to ensure that good working relationships are maintained and concerns are addressed. Outlining the ongoing commitment to the development of walking in Sligo, Deirdre explained “without the goodwill of the landowners, who through permissive access allow for the development of these walks and other recreational infrastructure this would not be possible. It is important that the concerns of landowners are addressed and that goodwill is maintained”.
Considerable labour and expenditure has been invested in the development of new and existing walking trails in recent years in Sligo. However, as the popularity of walking continues to increase, so too does the ongoing maintenance along the various trails. The Rural Social Scheme operated by Sligo LEADER Partnership has been invaluable in this regard. The Rural Social Scheme is aimed at local income farmers and fisherpersons and provides participants with experience and the opportunity to improve existing or develop new skills while performing valuable work in the community. One of the main roles of the Rural Social Scheme (RSS) is to maintain and improve local amenities and facilities including the maintenance and enhancement of walking trails.
Communities also benefit from the skills and talents of the RSS workers in terms of developing new walks and related infrastructure. Deirdre acknowledged the continued work of the Rural Social Scheme staff in terms of the ongoing trail maintenance which has to be undertaken, whatever the weather!
The walking product has experienced major growth in the past number of years in terms of both the domestic and overseas market and the continued development of the walking product will drive tourism and job creation in Sligo and the North West.
There is considerable potential for the further development of the rural recreation sector through targeted investment in infrastructure and co-ordination. Deirdre explains that with the combination of improvements to the existing trails and the new developments underway that we have the potential to place County Sligo at the forefront of rural recreation tourism in the country. “We are delighted to see the improvement works starting to take shape and we welcome any feedback from walkers with regard to the trails”.
Both the Walks Scheme and the post of the Rural Recreation Officer are directly funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development through Sligo LEADER Partnership with support from Fáilte Ireland. Works are undertaken in collaboration with Sligo County Council and Coillte. The development of Sligo Walks is a wonderful example of what partnership endeavour on the part of all sectors – private and public together can achieve for the benefit of the tourism industry and the wider community itself.