News

Big day for Slieve Blooms with launch of mountain bike trails

Thursday, 3 May 2018

LAST FRIDAY morning was a big day in the history of the Slieve Bloom Mountains and the wider region when a breaking of ground ceremony was held in Monicknew forest in the middle of the hills. This ceremony was in effect the beginning of the construction work on the Slieve Bloom Mountain Bike Trails, a project which will be a magnificent amenity for the region as well as having significant tourism jobs potential.
Coillte is building the cycling trails in partnership with Offaly and Laois County Councils. It's estimated to cost €5 million and the first phase might be finished by next October or November. 
Laois/Offaly TD and Minister for Equality and Justice, Charlie Flanagan, launched the project on Friday and the Minister was clearly delighted to be turning the sod on such a big enterprise in his home county. "The Slieve Blooms mean an awful lot to me," said the Minister. "I think there is no more beautiful place in all of Ireland. When I was a teenager I used to cycle up here a lot with friends." The Minister showed us how well he knew the area by describing the quickest route to cycle back from Monicknew to his homeplace.
“I am so glad to see this project finally getting up and running," he remarked.
"This is a really important day for the region. It is a groundbreaking morning for everyone who loves these hills and Laois and Offaly. These bike trails when completed will benefit people's health, physical and mental. They will be a boost for the local economy and for businesses and for tourism.
“There is a great welcome in the region for this project. Most people are delighted to see this day." He extended his gratitude to Minister Ring and his Department for granting the initial €1 million to get the project underway. "Everyone is looking forward to the speedy conclusion of the construction work and the happy day when we can start cycling on the trails."
He added that last year was a record year, in terms of number of visitors, for tourism in Ireland. He also talked of the tranquillity, the peace, the unique nature of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, "my homeland, my turf."
He praised a number of people for all their hard work for the Slieve Blooms including Christina Byrne of the Slieve Bloom Rural Development Society, Richard Jack of Coillte, and Michael Dowling of the Slieve Bloom Association. He said Michael Dowling has a wealth of knowledge about the heritage of the Slieve Blooms.
Ger Murphy, Managing Director of Coillte, also spoke at the Monicknew breaking of ground ceremony. He told the group of politicians, Coillte employees, County Council employees, and lovers of the Slieve Blooms, that Minister Flanagan has been a strong supporter of the project from the get-go.
“In Coillte," he remarked, "we are very proud of the Slieve Bloom forest. It is one of the largest forests in the state and it's a fantastic amenity. The region also has an emotional resonance for many Coillte employees because for many years they were trained in Kinnitty. Coillte has provided a decent amount of employment to local people over the decades. But Coillte is more than just harvesting timber and providing employment. It is also about recreation, biodiversity, tourism. Often people don't realise how much Coillte does in terms of being a recreational outlet for the citizens of the state. For example, there are 3,000 kilometres of recreational trails on Coillte land throughout Ireland. Coillte is more than an economically driven organisation. It also recognises the environmental and social benefits of our forests.
He pointed out that on coillte.ie people will be able to see the many wonderful attractions on Coillte land, including Lough Key Forest Park, Avondale Forest Park, and the Ballyhoura bike trails.
He spoke about the importance of co-operation and partnership when it came to projects like this. Therefore, Coillte has been collaborating very effectively with Laois County Council and Offaly County Council. He praised Daithi de Forge and his Coillte team for all their excellent, unstinting work in getting the project to this stage. "It is their aim, and everyone's aim, to deliver a world-class facility to the Slieve Bloom Mountains, something which we will all be proud of."
Cllr John Clendennen, Leas Cathaoirleach of Offaly County Council, said this was a very special day for the region. He acknowledged the hard work of those who have promoted the Slieve Blooms up until now, including the Slieve Bloom Rural Development Association and the Slieve Bloom Association. He praised the work of both County Councils, and the work of Daithi de Forge and his team. He said the bike trails in the Ballyhoura hills in Limerick bring about 50,000 visitors to the area every year, and the Slieve Bloom Bike Trails could equal if not surpass that.
When completed, there will be be over 100km of bike trails in the Slieve Blooms. The first phase, which is now underway and should be finished before Christmas, will involve the construction of 35kms of trails. The trails will be off-road and cross-country, with approximately half in County Laois at Baunreagh and half in County Offaly at Kinnitty.
Funding of €1m for the first phase, which was in addition to €195,500 for rural trails and cycle-ways projects under Measure 2 of the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme in County Laois, was announced by the Minister in July 2017.  
Metro Construction have been appointed to build phase 1 working closely with Coillte and the Laois and Offaly County Councils to ensure a trails product of international quality. 
The two County Councils are providing over €200,000 each in match funding to assist in bringing this very important tourism and amenity project to fruition.
The trails will be linked across the top of the mountains by an on-road section at Wolftrap Mountain. The flagship project for the midlands region is promised to create sustainable jobs as mountain biking is a year round activity and not weather dependent.
“The Slieve Bloom national scale MTB system," said Daithi de Forge, "when taken in conjunction with the existing very successful trails system in Ballyhoura on the Limerick/Cork border, at Ticknock in the Dublin Mountains and the proposed trails system at Coolaney, Co. Sligo will make Ireland very attractive as a destination for international mountain biking tourists."
John Mulholland, Chief Executive of Laois County Council, said he hoped that the centre will present villages and communities on both sides of the mountains with opportunities for rural tourism enterprise and employment.
Anna Marie Delaney, Chief Executive of Offaly County Council, said the project could not have progressed to "this very exciting stage without the very close co-operation between the two Local Authorities and Coillte and we at all stages noted the tremendous support for the project from the local community and elected representatives on both sides of the mountains."
It's expected that the project will give a major boost to existing and new local businesses. It will also be important that accommodation packages, food and drink offerings and links to the many other attractions on both sides of the mountains are developed in tandem with the trails. The MTB project will also complement the many existing walking routes, road cycling activity and the festival activities in the Slieve Bloom Mountains which are located only just over an hour from both Dublin and Limerick and approximately two hours from Cork.
Mr de Forge said it's hoped that phase 1 will be finished by October.
Further details will be published nearer the time and no access will be allowed until the trails are officially opened, to allow construction activities to continue safely.
It is also planned to build a trailhead visitor building with toilets, showers, bike hire, bike wash and a coffee shop at Baunreagh, while in Offaly it is hoped that local businesses in Kinnitty village will provide all the services to make the trails a seamless and enjoyable tourist attraction and a buzzing amenity and tourism hub. There is provision for a trailhead building just outside Kinnitty on the Clonaslee road should it be necessary in the future. Once fully built, the trails could attract 80,000 users per annum and at this level the income could exceed the cost of construction in less than two years.
The planning permission for the project comes with stringent environmental conditions, most importantly the requirement to take careful account of the nesting locations of the hen harrier, which is protected under EU law. The majority of the Slieve Blooms is designated a Special Protection Area in recognition of the important population of hen harriers in the area, 5% of the national total. The upper reaches of the mountains are also designated as a Special Area of Conservation and, at an early stage Coillte, having consulted with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, decided to avoid this area entirely.

"This is a really important day for the region. It is a groundbreaking morning for everyone who loves these hills and Laois and Offaly. These bike trails when completed will benefit people's health, physical and mental. They will be a boost for the local economy and for businesses and for tourism.
“There is a great welcome in the region for this project. Most people are delighted to see this day." He extended his gratitude to Minister Ring and his Department for granting the initial €1 million to get the project underway. "Everyone is looking forward to the speedy conclusion of the construction work and the happy day when we can start cycling on the trails."
He added that last year was a record year, in terms of number of visitors, for tourism in Ireland. He also talked of the tranquillity, the peace, the unique nature of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, "my homeland, my turf."
He praised a number of people for all their hard work for the Slieve Blooms including Christina Byrne of the Slieve Bloom Rural Development Society, Richard Jack of Coillte, and Michael Dowling of the Slieve Bloom Association. He said Michael Dowling has a wealth of knowledge about the heritage of the Slieve Blooms.
Ger Murphy, Managing Director of Coillte, also spoke at the Monicknew breaking of ground ceremony. He told the group of politicians, Coillte employees, County Council employees, and lovers of the Slieve Blooms, that Minister Flanagan has been a strong supporter of the project from the get-go.
“In Coillte," he remarked, "we are very proud of the Slieve Bloom forest. It is one of the largest forests in the state and it's a fantastic amenity. The region also has an emotional resonance for many Coillte employees because for many years they were trained in Kinnitty. Coillte has provided a decent amount of employment to local people over the decades. But Coillte is more than just harvesting timber and providing employment. It is also about recreation, biodiversity, tourism. Often people don't realise how much Coillte does in terms of being a recreational outlet for the citizens of the state. For example, there are 3,000 kilometres of recreational trails on Coillte land throughout Ireland. Coillte is more than an economically driven organisation. It also recognises the environmental and social benefits of our forests.
He pointed out that on coillte.ie people will be able to see the many wonderful attractions on Coillte land, including Lough Key Forest Park, Avondale Forest Park, and the Ballyhoura bike trails.
He spoke about the importance of co-operation and partnership when it came to projects like this. Therefore, Coillte has been collaborating very effectively with Laois County Council and Offaly County Council. He praised Daithi de Forge and his Coillte team for all their excellent, unstinting work in getting the project to this stage. "It is their aim, and everyone's aim, to deliver a world-class facility to the Slieve Bloom Mountains, something which we will all be proud of."
Cllr John Clendennen, Leas Cathaoirleach of Offaly County Council, said this was a very special day for the region. He acknowledged the hard work of those who have promoted the Slieve Blooms up until now, including the Slieve Bloom Rural Development Association and the Slieve Bloom Association. He praised the work of both County Councils, and the work of Daithi de Forge and his team. He said the bike trails in the Ballyhoura hills in Limerick bring about 50,000 visitors to the area every year, and the Slieve Bloom Bike Trails could equal if not surpass that.
When completed, there will be be over 100km of bike trails in the Slieve Blooms. The first phase, which is now underway and should be finished before Christmas, will involve the construction of 35kms of trails. The trails will be off-road and cross-country, with approximately half in County Laois at Baunreagh and half in County Offaly at Kinnitty.
Funding of €1m for the first phase, which was in addition to €195,500 for rural trails and cycle-ways projects under Measure 2 of the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme in County Laois, was announced by the Minister in July 2017.  
Metro Construction have been appointed to build phase 1 working closely with Coillte and the Laois and Offaly County Councils to ensure a trails product of international quality. 
The two County Councils are providing over €200,000 each in match funding to assist in bringing this very important tourism and amenity project to fruition.
The trails will be linked across the top of the mountains by an on-road section at Wolftrap Mountain. The flagship project for the midlands region is promised to create sustainable jobs as mountain biking is a year round activity and not weather dependent.
“The Slieve Bloom national scale MTB system," said Daithi de Forge, "when taken in conjunction with the existing very successful trails system in Ballyhoura on the Limerick/Cork border, at Ticknock in the Dublin Mountains and the proposed trails system at Coolaney, Co. Sligo will make Ireland very attractive as a destination for international mountain biking tourists."
John Mulholland, Chief Executive of Laois County Council, said he hoped that the centre will present villages and communities on both sides of the mountains with opportunities for rural tourism enterprise and employment.
Anna Marie Delaney, Chief Executive of Offaly County Council, said the project could not have progressed to "this very exciting stage without the very close co-operation between the two Local Authorities and Coillte and we at all stages noted the tremendous support for the project from the local community and elected representatives on both sides of the mountains."
It's expected that the project will give a major boost to existing and new local businesses. It will also be important that accommodation packages, food and drink offerings and links to the many other attractions on both sides of the mountains are developed in tandem with the trails. The MTB project will also complement the many existing walking routes, road cycling activity and the festival activities in the Slieve Bloom Mountains which are located only just over an hour from both Dublin and Limerick and approximately two hours from Cork.
Mr de Forge said it's hoped that phase 1 will be finished by October.
Further details will be published nearer the time and no access will be allowed until the trails are officially opened, to allow construction activities to continue safely.
It is also planned to build a trailhead visitor building with toilets, showers, bike hire, bike wash and a coffee shop at Baunreagh, while in Offaly it is hoped that local businesses in Kinnitty village will provide all the services to make the trails a seamless and enjoyable tourist attraction and a buzzing amenity and tourism hub. There is provision for a trailhead building just outside Kinnitty on the Clonaslee road should it be necessary in the future. Once fully built, the trails could attract 80,000 users per annum and at this level the income could exceed the cost of construction in less than two years.
The planning permission for the project comes with stringent environmental conditions, most importantly the requirement to take careful account of the nesting locations of the hen harrier, which is protected under EU law. The majority of the Slieve Blooms is designated a Special Protection Area in recognition of the important population of hen harriers in the area, 5% of the national total. The upper reaches of the mountains are also designated as a Special Area of Conservation and, at an early stage Coillte, having consulted with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, decided to avoid this area entirely.

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