Work on an exciting new £315,000 re-development of Darkley Forest could begin before the end of the year.
Years of preparation could finally bear some fruit in the coming months with a network of walking trails to be installed in the forest, which overlooks the picturesque Tullynawood lake, on the outskirts of the village.
It is recommended that councillors approve the £16,000 spending from their own pot – just five per cent of the overall project budget – at a meeting of the Council’s leisure committee this evening (Monday).
Should they give the nod, preparations can then begin so work can start immediately on the ground when the final piece of the funding jigsaw is in place.
The huge leap forward in this scheme in the last few weeks comes after Council identified an opportunity to fund a whopping 57 per cent of the shortfall (£180,000).
In order not to miss out on the opportunity for funds from the Department of Agriculture (DAERA), the Council has tasked Outdoor Recreation NI (ORNI) to progress the necessary work required, as a matter of urgency.
Since January 2016, ORNI has been working on behalf of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council to explore and formulate plans for the development of a community walking trail in Darkley Forest.
This has been done in conjunction with major plans at Gosford Forest Park.
In February of this year, council approved to progress Darkley Forest but at the time still needed to seek a huge portion of the funding required.
That work will include the development of a 6km walking route and car park, which Council officials believe “will encourage locals and visitors to the area but also act as a catalyst for future outdoor recreation developments”.
A report, which will be put before councillors tonight, states that Darkley is a highly deprived area but the forest “offers an opportunity to develop a local amenity which will be widely used by walking groups, residents and sporting/voluntary organisations”.
The Council is finalising the necessary licence arrangements with Forest Service NI for the trails and planning approval has been applied for.
Councillor Sharon Haughey-Grimley has been working closely with council officers for some time now to deliver this project and tonight she is hopeful of full support in the council.
“We have been working hard for considerable time to design and secure funding for exciting recreational projects in Darkley Forest and Gosford, as well as Carnagh,” said councillor Haughey-Grimley.
“I am absolutely delighted that our vision of outstanding recreational and community facilities can now be delivered through a mixture of external funding pots.
“In Darkley, we hope to deliver a fantastic health trail within the forest, providing local people with access to fantastic walking routes accessible from the village itself.
“This was something that was first muted a number of years ago at a community meeting in Darkley and I have been working hard pushing to ensure this project is delivered to the highest standard.
“In Gosford Park, the plan is to deliver 16km of multi-use trails to include walking, running, cycling and horse tracks. We also hope to compliment the existing offering at Gosford by delivering Ireland’s largest outdoor adventure playground for all ages. This is an exciting prospect and one which will capture the imagination of the whole community.
“I thank the assistance of council officers and representatives from Outdoor Recreation NI who have done a tremendous job securing external funding from a number of sources.
“Tonight it is imperative that committee gives its seal of approval for these projects and to provide a small percentage of match funding to help deliver all these projects. I am confident of full support of council for these worthy and exciting plans.”