Bikers enjoying a similar mountain bike trail.
The first image of the Slieve Bloom mountain bike trail in Laois and Offaly has been released by Coillte.
The Irish state forestry company is constructing the first phase of a 100km bike trail across the mountains, and has given a further reason for construction delays, the presence of a rare protected bird of prey.
The planning permission for the project came with very stringent environmental conditions, most importantly the requirement to take careful account of the nesting locations of the Hen Harrier, which is protected under EU law. The majority of the Slieve Blooms is designated a Special Protection Area in recognition of the important population of Hen Harriers in the area, 5% of the national total.
Daithi de Forge is Recreation Manager for Coillte.
“With extended, very fine weather conditions this year, Hen Harrier activity continued right into late Summer. With a detailed environmental monitoring programme in place, areas available for trail construction were not released to the trail-builders, as early as anticipated. However, construction is well underway and we’re happy to announce that our construction team is now at the half-way point. I’m confident the MTB bike trail will be one of the best in the country. I’m grateful for the community’s cooperation and patience, and believe me it will be well worth the wait,” he said.
Below: Hen Harrier being tagged in the Slieve Bloom mountains.
Phase one had been due to open this month October. Last month Coillte said hot weather had delayed construction.
"Substantial completion is due by the end of 2018," Coillte has stated.
The public are warned not to try them out ahead of opening.
"The trails being delivered on site are of excellent quality, but as normal for such projects, all riders are asked not to attempt to access the trails until the official opening, to allow time for the necessary ‘bedding-in’ period to ensure the trails are fully durable," it says.
Below: The first image release by Coillte of a section of a bike trail.
Coillte is building the trails in partnership with Offaly and Laois County Councils, funded by the councils and government grants.
Fáilte Ireland has now joined in support of the €5 million project.
"Coillte and the local authorities have partnered with Fáilte Ireland to apply for funding to complete all the remaining phases of the MTB trail centre project. An application under the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund has been submitted to the Department of Rural and Community Development just recently. It is anticipated that a decision on this funding application may be made by the end of this year.
The current phase will consist of 35km of MTB trails, split with approximately half in Laois starting from a trailhead in Baunreagh valley and half in Offaly starting from Kinnitty village. Planning permission is in place for the entire national-scale MTB centre which, when complete, will see over 100kms of trails in the two counties, linked across the top of the mountains by an on-road section at Wolftrap Mountain.
In a later phase of the project, it is planned to construct a trailhead visitor building with toilets, showers, bike hire, bike wash and a coffee shop at Baunreagh Laois, while in Offaly it is hoped that local businesses in Kinnitty village will provide all the services to make the trails a seamless and enjoyable tourist attraction and a buzzing amenity and tourism hub. The entire project will cost approximately €5 million.
The bike trail is expected to attract tourists from far and wide, as well as offer a new family and adventure day out for Laois and Offaly and boost local businesses.
"It is expected that the project will give a major boost to existing and new local businesses and it is important that accommodation packages, food and drink offerings and links to the many other attractions on both sides of the mountains are developed in tandem with the trails," Coillte said.
"The MTB project will also complement the many existing walking routes, road cycling activity and the festival activities in the Slieve Bloom Mountains which are located only just over an hour from both Dublin and Limerick and approximately two hours from Cork," it said.