THE construction of a 35km mountain bike trail centre in the Slieve Blooms has reached the halfway mark, Coillte announced this week.
In partnership with Offaly and Laois county councils, the forestry body expects “substantial completion” due by the end of 2018.
“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,” said Coillte spokesman Daithí de Forge.
Permission for the €5 million 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.
Because of the very fine weather this year, harrier activity continued into late summer and because of this, areas available for trail construction were not released to the trail- builders as early as anticipated. “I’m confident the bike trail will be one of the best in the country and I’m grateful for the community’s co-operation and patience. Believe me, it will be well worth the wait!” said Mr de Forge.
Coillte and the local authorities have partnered with Fáilte Ireland to apply for funding to complete all the remaining phases of the trail centre project and 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 trails, with half in Co Laois starting in Baunreagh valley and half in Co 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, while in Offaly it is hoped that local businesses in Kinnitty will provide all the services to make the trails a seamless and enjoyable tourist attraction.