‘Valley’ beauty spot in line for major facelift

Thursday, 17 August 2017

AFTER years of lobbying, a popular beauty spot in the heart of the Clogher Valley may finally receive some much needed grant-funding which will transform the area.

Knockmany Forest, four miles outside the village of Augher, remains a popular facility for locals and tourists alike, despite its somewhat neglected state.

Walkers and running clubs regularly avail of the many trails and pathways, while the historical Anya's Tomb remains a fascinating landmark for keen historians.

So busy is the facility, that its users regularly have difficulty parking there due to the limited car parking space. Those unfamiliar with the area have complained about a lack of signage around the large park, while there are no toilet or changing facilities.

The area has also become wildly overgrown in places, and a lake - which locals say has huge potential, particularly for fishing - remains inaccessible.

Previous appeals to have the facility developed have fallen on deaf ears, but now the project, led by local community groups, appears to have been given fresh hope.

"Eskra Community Association is currently seeking grant funding from Sport NI, having successfully satisfied the initial stage qualification, for a potential development opportunity at Knockmany Forest," confirmed a spokesperson for Mid Ulster Council.

The proposal includes improved recreational access and paths, together with visitor facilities, such as car parking, toilets, picnic areas and a children's play area.

The spokesperson continued: "The association is also seeking the council's support in terms of funding, project management and ongoing maintenance through licence agreements with Forest Service NI.

"Work is ongoing to allow the project to be formally considered by the council in the near future."

Gerry McCaffrey, chairman of Eskra Community Association, said Mid Ulster Council have been "very receptive" to the proposals presented by the groups, and he is hopeful steps will soon be taken to develop the area.

"Eskra Community Association (ECA) has been successful in the competitive selection stage of SportNI's 'Everybody Active 2020' programme for funding to improve basic amenities in Knockmany Forest, and is now working with Mid-Ulster Council to formulate a business plan that will meet the criteria to move the project to the design and delivery stage," he explained.

"ECA is the lead group in a partnership with Knockmany Running Club, Clogher Valley Wheelers, Playtime Day Nursery Eskra and a number of local schools and clubs, that has proposed a programme of leisure activities within the forest park."

He continued: "Knockmany Forest is a lovely setting, with several walking paths and the historical Anya's Tomb. It is a gateway to the entire Clogher Valley area, a great stop-off point and its potential has no limits.

"Currently, there are no toilets on site - the closest public toilets are in Augher or Clogher. This isn't ideal, especially for families who may stop for a picnic. Unfortunately, this means local schools and the likes of Eskra Playtime aren't able to bring large groups of children to Knockmany."

The forest is extremely busy at the moment, Mr McCaffrey admitted, but he added: "Presently there are many people who are unable to take advantage of such a wonderful area because of the lack of facilities.

"Knockmany Running Club had been running a programme for primary school children. Unfortunately, however, they have had to curtail the programme this year because of the cost of hiring portable toilet facilities."

"Car parking is extremely limited. The car parks are often filled with vehicles being forced to park on the road.

"There is a hidden lake also at Knockmany, but there is currently no access to it - it is completely overgrown and people don't even know it is there. We need to open this up as it has huge potential, especially for fishing."

He continued: "Whilst there is quite a way to go still in terms of getting the go-ahead, MUC council has been very supportive of the project and is at an advanced stage in securing a licence agreement with the Forest Service, which will enable the council to develop facilities within the forest park.

"Local councillor, Sharon McAleer, has been pro-active in ensuring that the Knockmany project remains high on the council's agenda and council's commitment to the overall project is essential if the proposals are to be delivered."

Local councillor for the area, Sharon McAleer, has welcomed the proposals.

"We are working closely with the council and Forestry NI on this project," she said. "There has been a huge demand for toilet facilities and signage since I became a councillor. I'm pleased because the council are very eager to meet the needs of the park.

"This is a project I am very excited about as there is so much potential at Knockmany."


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