TOURISM and leisure-related businesses received a welcome boost this week after the latest national inspection report awarded top marks to the O’Briensbridge Loop Walks.
O’Briensbridge Community Group chairman, Mick Murtagh expects the national walking routes from the village to Clonlara will become even more widely used after the route scooped an impressive 98% in the assessment completed by the National Trails Office.
Two of the three loops, the Old Barge Red Loop and the shorter Erina Canal Blue Loop, were inspected by a National Trails Office inspector on May 24 last.
According to the report, the walks are generally in a superb condition, with the standard of marking rated as excellent.
The group was praised for looking after the majority of issues highlighted in the previous report. No items were seen at the time of the inspection that could expose a trail user to possible injury or harm.
The inspector was accompanied by Clare walks officer, Cyril Killeen on behalf of the O’Briensbridge and Clonlara Community Groups and Shannon Development.
The report recommended that in order to fully comply with the management standards for recreational trails, emergency contact details and information on whether dogs are permitted on the trail should be included when reissuing or revising the maps for the O’Briensbridge Loop Walks. It suggested the ascent in metres and emergency contact details should be included on the information board at the trail head of the loops.
The group was also advised that underfoot conditions along the wooded section between Erina Bridge and the River Shanon should be monitored to avoid potential erosion.
It was advised that a map board similar to the one provided in O’Briensbridge should also be provided in Clonlara.
In a letter to Shannon Development, Cormac MacDonnell confirmed the O’Briensbridge Loops had fully complied with the management standards for recreational trails in Ireland and would be recorded as accredited on the National Trails Register.
“The condition of the O’Briensbridge Loops overall is very good and the standard of waymarking is excellent,” he stated.
The loop walks were assessed under criteria including trail information, accessibility of the route, waymarking, trail surface, vegetation and litter and trail furniture and services, such as parking.
Mick Murtagh estimated it costs the committee about €10,000 annually to maintain the 16km of looped walks.
With an estimated €1.6 million nationally generated from walking-related tourism products, he pointed out the walks generate a lot of additional business for pubs, restaurants and accommodation providers in the area.
“What makes them so unique is the fact that they are the only walkways that don’t link up with public roads at some point, which makes them much safer to use. All of the walks are along the waterways, which is another added attraction,” he explained.
Despite the huge spin-off generated for the local economy, the group is finding it increasingly difficult to secure funding from agencies. While the walks escaped unscathed from previous bouts of flooding in the past, the last major incidence in November washed up river mud and caused some erosion, as water breached the high water mark for the first time.
The group fundraises through ventures such as its heritage walk during Heritage Week on Saturday, August 29 at 11am.