The Blessington Greenway has been launched by Leo Varadkar TD, Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport.
This new development covers 6.5kms of walking and cycling trails through the forest and woodlands taking in some spectacular scenery adjacent to the shoreline of Blessington Reservoir – more commonly referred to as Blessington Lakes. It joins the historic town of Blessington to the Palladian mansion of Russborough House. It is planned that further phases will now be developed and will continue around the lakes for another 50kms looping back to Blessington.
At the Launch today Minister Varadkar said that walking and cycling tourism represents an area with massive growth potential. “This is just the first phase of a great project to run a new greenway right around Blessington Lake. It’s a good example of how community spirit can make things happen. County Wicklow Partnership funding was instrumental in helping to complete this first 6km phase and the NTA is funding a footpath linking the two existing sections of the walking route, but full credit must go to the Blessington Forum for the initiative and to the ESB for making the land available.”
A recent study carried out by Trinity College, Dublin found that cycle ways such as this could boost tourist numbers and have a real economic benefit. The Greenway Project Manager, John Horan said that the Blessington Greenway development represents great value for money and will provide a much needed flagship tourism project in the heart of the Kildare/Wicklow Tourism Region. “A community based body has demonstrated that the job can be done. The completion of the further phases of this exciting new tourism project now requires the direct involvement of Failte Ireland together with the provision of the necessary funding from appropriate national level sources”, he said.
ESB owns the land surrounding the lakes and the organisation had specific requirements for the development of the Greenway. The routing of the trail had to take into account water levels and planned tree felling. The services of ESB’s engineering, property and other sections were made available to assist with these matters. Speaking at the event, Paddy Hayes, Executive Director, ESB Generation and Wholesale Markets, ESB said: “ESB is committed to working with the broader community, particularly in areas where the organisation is directly involved such as the Blessington Lakes hinterland. We are committed to being a successful, responsible and progressive company contributing to the economic and social life of Ireland and our involvement in the Blessington Greenway project is a clear demonstration of this commitment”.
The Greenway project was first envisaged in the Wicklow County Development Plan and has been implemented under the auspices of Blessington and District Forum. John Horan has managed the project on behalf of the Forum and he says that “a wide range of stakeholders including Co Wicklow Partnership, ESB, Wicklow County Council, Failte Ireland and Wicklow Tourism have been supportive of this development”.
Detailed Cultural, Heritage and Ecological Impact Assessments were carried out to ensure that the development would have no potentially negative impacts on what is a “sensitive” area from a number of viewpoints. “Among the hurdles which had to dealt with along the way was an ancient medieval ringfort on the route and a special raised ramp was constructed to cross this area and to open it up for viewing by those who pass along the new Greenway”, according to Mr Horan. “Similarly we had to be conscious of our many feathered friends – particularly the summer nesting birds and a range of measures were implemented to mitigate any impact the new greenway might have on them”, he said.
Wicklow County Council and local Councillor, Jim Ruttle, have been very active in supporting the venture in a number of ways. Michael Sargent, Chairman of Blessington and District Forum spoke specifically of the special merit award which the Forum received under the County Council’s Community Awards Scheme for its work in developing the trail. “It is this sort of award which gives voluntary community based organisations such as ours the encouragement to continue the work that we do”.
The Greenway project has been part funded through County Wicklow Partnership by the Rural Development programme Ireland 2007 – 2013 and the European Union and Mr Sargent thanked CWP for their support for the Greenway. Tom Gregan, Chairman of County Wicklow Partnership, commended the groundbreaking progress made in relation to the development of the Blessington Greenway, stating: ‘It is a great example of numerous partners coming together from different sectors to progress a common goal and we in CWP are delighted to have been involved with both the feasibility and capital phases and to have supported this initiative through LEADER RDP funding”. Tom went on to wish the group well on all its future endeavours.
Mr Sargent also said that “Shane O’Neill Architects from Ballyknockan have given us great service on phase 1 and and we are grateful to him for this and for the preparatory work he is now doing on further phases”.
Eric Blatchford, CEO of Russborough House has said that the new Blessington Greenway “is a great addition both to the local community and to the increasing number of domestic and international visitors coming to the area”. Paul Ashmore, Activities Manager at Avon Ri Lakeshore Resort in Blessington has been heavily involved in the project and says that “this development will be a fantastic addition to the tourism and leisure infrastructure in West Wicklow”. Failte Ireland has also added its support saying that “this project will positively add to the tourism mix in the Kildare/Wicklow Destination”.
John Horan who has co-ordinated a wide range of activities to get the Greenway underway thanked all of these people and also other Forum Members such as Sheamus Balfe and Joe Hanly. “Killian McGreal has also been centrally involved with the work and has shown tremendous commitment to the project”, he said.
“We see this first phase of the Greenway as the beginning of what will become a complete loop of about 60 kms along the other shores of the lake, opening up the villages of Valleymount, Ballyknockan, Lacken and Manor Kilbride to even more walkers and cyclists in the years ahead”, Mr Horan concluded.