Coillte, in partnership with Offaly and Laois County Councils are pleased to announce that the Slieve Bloom Mountain Bike Trails (MTB) project has moved one important step closer to becoming a reality. The sod was turned on Phase 1 today, 27th April 2018 by Mr. Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Justice and Equality.
After a competitive two stage tendering process, contractors Metro Construction have been appointed to construct this phase and will work closely with Coillte and the Local Authorities to ensure a trails product of international quality.
Phase 1 will consist of 35km of mountain bike trails (MTB), split with approximately half in Co. Laois at Baunreagh and half in Co. Offaly at Kinnitty. Funding of €1m under the Department of Rural & Community Development’s 2017 Rural Recreation Scheme was secured by Offaly County Council, on behalf of Coillte as the lead agency and the two County Councils as partners. In addition, the two County Councils are providing over €200,000 each in match funding to assist in bringing this very important tourism and amenity project to fruition.
Planning permission is in place for a National Scale MTB centre in the Slieve Blooms 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. This is an exciting flagship project for the Midlands Region and will create sustainable jobs as mountain biking is a year round activity and not weather dependent. Speaking on behalf of Coillte, Daithi deForge, project manager said that “the Slieve Bloom national scale MTB system, when taken in conjunction with the existing very successful trails system in Ballyhoura on the Limerick / Cork border, at Ticknock in the Dublin Mountains and the proposed trails system at Coolaney, Co. Sligo will make Ireland very attractive as a destination for international mountain biking tourists”.
Anna Marie Delaney, Chief Executive of Offaly County Council said that “the project could not have progressed to this very exciting stage without the very close co-operation between the two Local Authorities and Coillte and we at all stages noted the tremendous support for the project from the local community and elected representatives on both sides of the mountains”.
Further phases are planned in order to complete the trails system as soon as possible, subject to funding being allocated. The entire project will cost approximately €5m. 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. The MTB project will also compliment 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 2 hours from Cork.
John Mulholland, Chief Executive of Laois County Council hopes that “the centre will present villages and communities on both sides of the mountains with opportunities for rural tourism enterprise and employment”.
Daithi de Forge, project manager for the trails development hopes that phase 1 will be open in October 2018. Further details will be published nearer the time and no access will be allowed until the trails are officially opened, to allow construction activities to continue safely.
Long term, it is planned to build a trailhead visitor building with toilets, showers, bike hire, bike wash and a coffee shop at Baunreagh Co. 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. There is provision for a trailhead building just outside Kinnitty on the Clonaslee road should it be necessary in the future. Once fully built, the trails could attract 80,000 users per annum and at this level the direct expenditure could exceed the cost of construction in less than two years.
The planning permission for the project comes 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. The upper reaches of the mountains are also designated as a Special Area of Conservation and at an early stage Coillte having consulted with the National Parks and Wildlife Service decided to avoid this area entirely.