By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
A new phase of a walking trail which links Northern Ireland and the Republic with the world-famous Appalachian Mountains in the US has been launched in a bid to attract more international visitors.
The Ulster-Ireland International Appalachian Trail (IAT) is part of an international walking trail that follows the Appalachian Mountain terrain, which existed on the super continent Pangaea before the Atlantic Ocean formed and broke up the continent.
The Ulster-Ireland section totals 279 miles in length, was established in 2011, launched in 2013 and continues the trail after it leaves the North American continent.
It starts at the Slieve League, passes through Glencolmcille, traverses the Bluestack Mountains in Co Donegal before crossing into Co Tyrone where it picks up the Ulster Way, taking in the Sperrins, the north coast and the Glens of Antrim.
The next phase of the walking trail has now been launched, which includes a number of improvements including newly installed pieces of art, new trail furniture and updated information panels and improved facilities at many locations.
A marketing campaign has also been launched to coincide with the trail works, promoting the walk to audiences across America, as well as in Northern Ireland and the Republic, incorporating videos, photography and offers from local businesses. This campaign will be carried out by Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland.
The initiative is part of a cross-Border project funded by the Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020 and being part funded by Stormont’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and the European Union.
Founder of the International Appalachian Trail Dick Anderson said: “In the early days of this project I never imagined that I would be speaking about the trail in Donegal and Northern Ireland.”
DAERA Minister Edwin Poots MLA said: “I am delighted that through the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 Co-operation scheme, my department has provided funding of £960,000 towards the project costs of the Ulster chapter of the International Appalachian Trail.
“This cross-Border project, which has resulted in significant improvements across the entire route from West Donegal to Antrim, will provide a quality walking experience attracting local and out of state visitors, providing a much-needed boost to the local economy.”
Mr Poots added: “The partnership work undertaken between the councils involved and DAERA which was required to deliver this project, has seen positive and hopefully long-lasting relationships developed.”
Irish Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys said: “I am delighted that through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development in Ireland, we have been able to invest significantly in the International Appalachian Trail Ulster–Ireland.
“This cross-Border project provides real opportunities for growth in tourism for rural communities and highlights the beauty of the Irish landscapes available to us at home.”
The International Appalachian Trail begins at the Northern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail, on Mount Katahdin in Maine in the United States.
One of the world’s largest trail networks, it travels into Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Ireland and Northern Ireland before moving into Scotland, Norway, the Iberian peninsula and Morocco.
The route follows the single mountain range that once spanned thousands of miles on the super-continent Pangaea prior to the formation of the Atlantic Ocean around 175 million years ago.
Six Local Area Groups (LAG) groups make up the partners for this project: Donegal Local Development Company, Derry City and Strabane Council, Fermanagh and Omagh Council, Mid Ulster Council, Causeway Coast and Glens Council and Mid and East Antrim Council.
For more information search iatulsterireland.com.