Rural and Community Development | Expanding various recreational walk schemes
To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the extent to which various recreational walk schemes throughout the country continue to be expanded by county; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
The Walks Scheme, which is funded by my Department, contracts landholders to undertake maintenance work on National Waymarked Ways and other priority trails that traverse their lands. The landholders receive modest payments for maintenance work undertaken in line with agreed work plans. There are currently 55 trails with 2,250 landholders being supported on the Walks Scheme.
In September 2021, I announced approval in principle of 31 new trails to join the Walks Scheme. This fulfills the commitment in the Programme for Government and Our Rural Future to double the number of trails on the Scheme to 80 trails. These trails are being formally brought onto the scheme by Local Development Companies (LDCs) who deliver the Walks Scheme locally and who are developing work plans for each of the individual landholders involved. To date 9 of the 31 new trails have been added to the Scheme and work is progressing to bring the remaining trails on.
On 28th November I was delighted to launch Embracing Ireland’s Outdoors 2023 – 2027, the new five year National Outdoor Recreation Strategy in Castlecomer Discovery Park, Co Kilkenny. The Strategy acknowledges the essential role that landowners play in facilitating permissive access to their lands while acknowledging that this goodwill and the legal rights of the landowner must be respected by all recreational users.
A key action for the Strategy is to expand the Walks Scheme to 150. I will examine this further expansion of the Scheme once all 31 trails that were approved in September 2021 are progressed.
An expression of interest process will be opened for new trails in advance of any further expansion of the scheme. Trails that are eligible for inclusion in the Walks Scheme are those that are registered with Sport Ireland and covered by the Sport Ireland trail insurance policy.
Details of the trails on the Scheme are available on my Department’s website.
I also recently announced funding of almost €14m under the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme (ORIS), which will see the development of 59 outdoor recreation amenities including walking and hiking trails. This latest investment will take cumulative ORIS funding to €106 million since the Scheme was launched in 2016.
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