PICNIC tables are among the improved facilities that will be provided at the 12 O’Clock Hills walking trail, thanks to a funding boost from government and Fáilte Ireland. Just over €18,000 has been allocated to the project under the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme (ORIS) for small scale repairs as well as promotion and marketing. It is part of a total allocation of €88,250 for five walking and cycling amenities in Clare.
While a strict travel restrictions are currently in force, the hills have proven to be a hugely popular amenity over the last year in particular.
“The 12 O’Clock Hills is now an established and very successful amenity,” said committee chairperson, Patsy Neville. “The availability of this amenity has been particularly appreciated during the current Covid-19 pandemic as it provides the space for people to get outdoors and exercise which has been extremely important from a physical and mental health perspective during these challenging times. It is a valuable public space and now, more than ever, it needs to be considered as essential public infrastructure. Its contribution during the pandemic is to be celebrated, protected and ultimately leveraged to support public health. It is essential that the amenity be developed to enable it to continue to positively contribute to the physical, emotional and mental health and well-being of not just local residents but also the significant number of visitors who avail of the facility.”
At the moment, under Level 5 pandemic restrictions, only those who live within 5km of the amenity may access it. However, it ordinarily attracts walkers and ramblers from a huge hinterland.
In its application to the ORIS fund, the committee outlined how the popularity of the hills amenity has been steadily increasing since 2014. “The current pandemic has given rise to even greater demand for this valuable amenity,” the application stated. The funding, which is a ‘Measure 1’ allocation will now be used to install hard core on the muddy sections of the trails and especially in the forested areas where access is difficult. Trail furniture including benches and picnic tables will be installed at designated spots along the trails for walkers to take some break time from walking to rest and eat. Shrubbery will be planted along the embankment between upper and lower car park levels to discourage children from climbing onto it and also to improve appearance. Two photographic displays will be installed onto lectern units at elevated sections of the trails to allow self-guided walkers identify the distant views including the names of the many lakes that the landscape offers. At the car park, a portaloo will be installed to cater for visitors and young families using the Fairyland facility. In terms of marketing the site, drone imagery of the trails will be captured, including heritage sites and other features the facility has to offer and the current website will be upgraded. “The continued development and enhancement of these trails will ensure that they continue to play an important role in the promotion of quality of life, health and well-being of the local and wider community,” the application document added.
The allocation for Clare which will also fund two stretches of the Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walk, the Desert O’Dea Archaeology Trail and the Shannon Loop Yellow Route has been welcomed by Clare County Council. “The ORIS plays a key role in helping to develop and maintain key assets throughout the county that are utilised by locals and visitors alike,” said Leonard Cleary, Director of Rural Development, Clare County Council, said. “These trails are environmentally sustainable and are a great opportunity for people to explore and learn more about bio-diversity and the natural environment of our county.”
Orla Carroll, Director of Product Development at Fáilte Ireland, said: “Outdoor Recreation will play a vital role in helping tourism businesses throughout Ireland recover from the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year, Irish people embraced the outdoors, utilising walking and cycling trails, and blueways to explore the natural beauty Ireland has to offer. Along with the health benefits associated with outdoor recreation, domestic tourism also generated economic activity in rural locations around the country.”
Further announcements in respect of medium and large-scale projects under the ORIS, with funding of up to €200,000 and €500,000 respectively for each project, is expected in the coming weeks.