In January 2017, my Department entered into Strategic Investment Partnership with Fáílte Ireland, aimed at enhancing and promoting the tourism offering at Ireland’s National Parks and also conserving and protecting the natural environments of the National Parks for the enjoyment of future generations. In July of last year, as part of this partnership, we published Experiencing the Wild heart of Ireland – A Tourism Interpretative Masterplan for the National Parks and Nature Reserves.
The plan recommends a suite of capital projects of varying size (from smaller scale interventions such as installation of viewing platforms to larger projects such as the development of new boardwalks and trails, to the construction of new visitor centres). The first such project, a €2.1m investment in Wild Nephin- Ballycroy National Park was announced on the 31st of August, 2018 to develop a continuous 53km walking cycling trail from Newport to Ballycastle on the Wild Atlantic Way through the National Park. The outcome of this project will be an off road continuous cycling and walking trail in challenging terrain which will link the popular Great Western Greenway with the Wild Atlantic Way.
The second project, is an investment of some €1.9m in Connemara National Park. This project will also improve the visitor experience at the Park and focuses on the enhancement of the existing Recreational Trail Network as well as on infrastructure development at Mweelin, including the construction of a new car park, the provision of toilet facilities and the development of a new walking trail. The project includes the development of an additional 10.5 Km of new trails, a children’s natural play area, and a new Lime Kiln Trail to enhance access to more areas of the National Park. Development works have now begun on site. It is envisaged that the project will be completed by the end of 2020.
Under the Rural Regeneration Fund (RRF) 32 projects, dispersed nationally, are being resourced with the total investment relating to the projects at €7,175,000 (75% co-funding from the RRF, with my Department and Fáilte Ireland providing the remaining 25%). The projects are currently underway and funding will go towards the upgrading and development of trails across the Parks and Reserves network, increased visitor facilities and improved signage and branding. Hybrid buses in selected National Parks will be purchased to assist in lowering the carbon footprint of visitor activities.