Community trails are to be developed at a forest in scenic south Armagh to bring a source of leisure and enjoyment to locals and visitors alike.
Glendesha Forest in Forkhill will have a series of trails – for walking, running and cycling – laid out after plans were drawn up by Outdoor Recreation NI.
It was responsible for the development proposals for Gosford Forest Park in Markethill and has been working closely with Newry, Mourne and Down District Council to explore potential at the local beauty spot.
It is intended that the multi-use bitmac trails will cover an area of three kilometres and will be developed at a cost in the region of £200,000, according to CIS.
A separate application is also being submitted for the development of a car park in the forest to accommodate visitors.
It is six years since Outdoor Recreation NI was commissioned by council to complete community trail plans in each of the seven district electoral areas which comprise the local authority’s reach.
According to a design and access statement: “The plan reflected the need and aspirations of the local community to increase the number of opportunities for safe, outdoor recreation provision – including options for walking, running and family/leisur cycling – which is accessible from the doorstep and may encourage people to be more physically active.”
And it adds: “Glendesha Forest has long been used by the local population for informal recreation through the use of a mixture of forest roads and ‘desire’ lines; to connect the townlands of Shanroe and Carrive; for recreation, exploration and appreciation of this space; and to access and make pilgrimages to the ‘Mass Rock’ located on the western side.”
The statement says the clear-felling of the forest in 2018 resulted in the loss of this informal network and makes access to the forest difficult for those unfamiliar with the area.
It continues: “There are currently no formal, safe, off-road pedestrian walking routes within or in the vicinity of Glendesha Forest, and notably limited options within the vicinity of Forkhill and those in the surrounding area of Carrive. Creating a formal community trail will give residents an opportunity to enjoy exercise on their doorstep.”
Replanting is currently taking place after the tree-felling of 2018.
Outdoor Recreation NI will deliver the development, as consultants, before formally handing over to NMD Council to maintain.
The community trail network will comprise of a 2kms ‘Mass Rock’ loop, using 1.4 kms of new-build trail and 0.6kms of upgraded forest road.
There would also be a kilometre of new-built trail to provide access to the ‘Mass Rock’ loop from Carrive.
The trail will be sustainable and finished in compacted gravel and boardwalk.
Two new trailheads will be created – at the new car park off Glendesha Road and at the southern access from Carrive.
Waymarkers will be installed along the route to “aid navigation”.
Interpretative panels will also be put in place to provide information on the built and natural heritage of the area including the Mass Rock and the Glendesha Area of Special Scientific Interest.
Visitor counters will be installed too to record and monitor use. Given local sports clubs, schools, groups, organisations and residents in the area, the applicant expects the trails will attract around 1,500 pedestrian users each month.
Outdoor Recreation NI expects that the new trails will become a “key part of community life” when installed and open to the public.
A planning application is now with council and approval would be expected to be given within the coming months.