Donegal County Council says a new European programme to link strategic walking trails with the towns and villages around them has the potential to make a major difference in South Inishowen.
The "Trail Gazers" programme is being led by the council in Donegal, and also includes partners from Sligo, Wales, France, Spain, and Portugal.
The programme is geared towards benefitting local economies in a way that doesn't compromise the environment.
The Inch Levels Walk is the Donegal trail involved in the initiative, Project manager Loretta McNicholas says there is scope for real local benefits..................
Statement in full -
Progress made on ‘planning for the recovery of small
rural communities’ through the new European Trail
Recently, partners from across the Atlantic Area met online to continue planning and making
progress on the new Atlantic Area Trail Gazers Project, for which Donegal County Council are
This project was set up to stimulate rural communities by linking strategic walking and
recreational infrastructure in areas of rich natural, built and cultural heritage with the
surrounding towns and villages. By working with key business, tourism and community
stakeholders the project sets out to develop tailored marketing material and reach new niche
markets; pilot bespoke Business to Customer initiatives based on key learning insights from trail
visitors and sound business acumen; nurture community led plans for the long term sustainable
future of each trail site and surrounding catchment areas. The overall ambition of this project
is to enhance visits to walks and recreational trails in the region and also provide incentives for
these visitors to further explore, experience and enjoy all that the surrounding towns and
villages have to offer.
It is likely that COVID-19 will have an impact on the vitality of small rural communities;
therefore maximising the return from strategic investments in tourism, walks and recreational
infrastructure is key to planning the recovery of such rural communities across the Atlantic
This project is learning from experts in the field who have years of experience in working on
trail development and knowledge of what works and what doesn’t in targeting niche walking
and environmental tourists and ensuring that rural communities and infrastructure can grow
sustainably to accommodate increases in visits without damaging the natural assets that
visitors come to see. These partners have selected a wide variety of trails to test best practice
methods in installing sensors and counters, in capturing and predicting footfall patterns to
future proof trail maintenance and service plans; in surveying trail users to identify factors that
would enhance their experience; in working with local business in developing Business to
Customer initiatives to enhance return from visitors; in capturing digital imagery to showcase
each site to new audiences; in developing community trail plans that are focused on niche
The 8 trails selected to test this project are in 'Chemin De Mémoires', in Bretagne, France; ‘Via
Verde del Plazola' in Navarra, Spain; 'La Caldera de Taburiente’ on the Canary Island of Las
Palma; the 'Seven Hanging Valleys' in the Algarve, Portugal; 'Sacred Mountain' in Viana do
Castelo, Northern Portugal; the ‘Taff Trail’ in West Wales and the Valleys; the
‘Knocknarea/Killaspugbrone loop ‘ in Sligo and 'Inch Levels’ in Donegal. In addition Glasgow
Caledonian University and Ulster University are providing important guidance on innovative
technology and data capture solutions for each site.
Community input is vital to this project and to this end the partnership would like to ensure
that key sectors in the rural community are represented on the ‘Project Advisory Groups’ in
each of the regions. These groups will guide the development of a ‘shared vision’ for each trail
site that is based on evidence and data capture through the project and provide a range of
shovel ready, community supported projects through practical trail plans that will ensure
sustainable rural futures. The new Trail Gazers Website will be available this May and will
allow any interested citizen to join an online community devoted to walks and trails in the
The partnership will work tirelessly over the next number of weeks to ensure that all necessary
arrangements are in place that once the restrictions are lifted this important work can
Trail Gazers project is co-financed by the Interreg Atlantic Area Programme through the
European Regional Development Fund.