THE International Appalachian Trail, Ulster-Ireland walking trail was recently formally launched at an event at the Ulster American Folk Park.
The initiative is part of a cross-border project within the Rural Development Programme 2014 to 2020 and has been part funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and the European Union.
Fermanagh and Omagh Local Action Group (FOLAG) in partnership with LAG groups from other council areas have worked to develop, enhance and promote the IAT Ulster-Ireland chapter of the International Appalachian Trail.
The Ulster Ireland section of the International Appalachian Trail as a whole is approximately 302miles/485km in length and traverses the northern part of the island of Ireland from west Donegal to Larne passing through six council areas, one of which is Fermanagh and Omagh District council. Starting at the spectacular Slieve League cliffs, the Trail passes through Glencolmcille, crosses the iconic Bluestack Mountains in Co Donegal before crossing into Co. Tyrone. Here it picks up the Ulster Way, taking in the Sperrins, the stunning North Coast and the Glens of Antrim.
The local section of the International Appalachian Trail begins from the summit of Bessy Bell and descends open hillside before joining a private laneway and minor roads to the Mellon Country Inn. From here the route crosses the A5 and continues through small rural townlands of Cappagh and Dunmullan, before entering Gortin Glens Forest Park at Glengowna. From there the route follows the forest road and paths before exiting the Gortin Glens Forest Park, crossing the B48 before joining a quieter, country road passing the Gortin Lakes and descending into Gortin village. From Gortin village the route continues north to Trinamadam Bridge and along the foothills of the Sperrins to Barnes Gap.
Developments on the local route have included updated signage with new way-marker posts and information panels strategically placed along the trail. Two paths have been developed to provide safe access to parts of the route, i.e. approach to Bessy Bell and Gortin Glens Forest Park; and the unique art sculpture inspired by the emigration story and commissioned in partnership with National Museums NI, which is located at the Ulster American Folk Park.
Kathryn Thomson, chief executive of National Museums NI said: “I am delighted that the Ulster American Folk Park will play home to this magnificent sculpture due to its links to people from Ulster who migrated to the Appalachian Mountains in North America.
“National Museums NI are passionate about sharing our heritage with our visitors in diverse ways and this sculpture is a representation of the migration history we share with a multitude of communities around the world. I am confident this sculpture will be a recognised feature for visitors and users of this area.”
Chairman of the Fermanagh and Omagh Local Action Group, Mr Stephen Huggett commented: “The International Appalachian Trail (IAT) Ulster-Ireland project is a cross border/cross council area project that has enabled a vast amount of upgrading to route infrastructure and facilities, which can be enjoyed by visitors from near and far. Fermanagh and Omagh Local Action Group is delighted to have been involved in the project and are proud to have contributed significantly to the achievements of the IAT Ulster Ireland trail”.
A significant marketing campaign coincided with the trail works, promoting the walk to audiences across America, as well as in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, incorporating videos, photography and offers from local businesses.
DAERA Minister Edwin Poots MLA commented: “I am delighted that through the LEADER Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 Co-operation Scheme, my Department has been able to provide funding of £137k towards the Fermanagh and Omagh’s local International Appalachian Trail project.
"This Co-operation project, which has resulted in significant improvements, will contribute to a quality visitor and walking experience, attracting local and out of state visitors, providing a much needed boost to the local economy. Co-operation projects have many positive benefits.
"In this instance local resources have been enhanced for the benefit of present and future generations, an attractive product is being extensively marketed and will undoubtedly bring economic benefits to the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council area.”
Minister Poots concluded: “The partnership work undertaken between the council and DAERA which was required to deliver this project, has seen positive and hopefully long lasting relationships developed.”
Local businesses close to the trail are being encouraged to get involved in the IAT fever by offering experiences for visitors or teaming up with other local providers to provide standout packages.
For more information on the IAT Ulster-Ireland, visit www.iatulsterireland.com.