Magnificent Tintern Trails has huge growth potential
The magnificent walking trails around Tintern Abbey were official launched by Minister Paul Kehoe T.D.
Addressing a gathering of some 80 people Minister Kehoe spoke of the remarkable history of Tintern and the importance of a facility that encompasses the type of beauty, history and heritage of Tintern Abbey, Saltmills and St Kearns.
Deputy Kehoe said: 'I believe that we have something that has huge potential to grow and develop further into the future.'
Other speakers at the launch included Pat Neville, Communications Manager with Coillte; Charlie Burke, Recreation Officer and initiator of the Woodlands for Health Programme, Coillte; Breda Lynch, Supervisor, OPW: Cllr Martin Murphy who was deputising for County Council Chairperson, Keith Doyle and Chairperson of the Tintern Trails Development Committee Pat Caulfield.
Tintern Abbey and the surrounding woodlands have long been recognised as a wonderful facility. In the 1980s a local community group worked on the development of a loop walk off the Wexford Coastal Path linking Tintern Abbey, Saltmills and St Kearns. This work represented a start to the development of what is now the Tintern Trails.
In 2013 the Tintern Trails Development Committee was established as a sub-group of Hook Rural Tourism and work began on the development of three looped trails. Today there are five looped walking trails, covering a distance of 16 kilometres, including a five kilometre section suitable for buggies and a shorter section suitable for wheelchairs.
Four of the trails are located fully within the Tintern Woods. Each trail is colour coded (Blue, Red, Green, Purple and Orange) and the length and grade is clearly marked, making it easy for walkers to select the walk most suited to their abilities.
Each of the speakers at the launch highlighted the importance of co-operation and working together in support of initiatives such as the trails that benefit both the local community and tourism. It was noted that the considerable progress made on developing the trails was only possible because of the support and encouragement received by the committee. Particular mention was made of the value of the support provided by Coillte, Wexford County Council, the Department of Community & Rural Affairs, the OPW, the CE and TUS schemes, Hook Rural Tourism, the Wexford Walking Trail Network and the local community.
As the owners of the Tintern woodlands Coillte have supported the development of the trails from the very beginning, including through helping with the clearing of pathways, providing timber for seating and for the beautiful carvings that offer additional interest along the trails. More recently Coillte have also built a much needed car park for walkers.
Wexford County Council's support was also vital in maintaining momentum through the provision of material for the trail surfaces, funding for planting and by taking the Eurovelo route through Tintern, and the Council greatly facilitated the development of the Green trail.
The Tintern Trails form part of the Wexford Walking Trail network.
Pat Caulfield thanked the OPW for their understanding in light of the additional pressure on car parking spaces and he expressed the hope that the new walkers car park would ease this pressure and facilitate more visitors to the Abbey.
He also highlighted the importance of the CE and TUS schemes to the development of the trails, describing the workers on the schemes as the unsung heroes of the Tintern Trails project. 'Their interest, energy and enthusiasm have been exemplary,' he said.
To date the cost of developing the trails has come from a combination of voluntary labour, local fundraising events, contributions in kind and grants from local and national government sources.
The estimated cost of the work done to date on the trails, including labour, is €400,000.
Mr Caulfield noted that while the development of the trails is now complete maintenance is ongoing and the committee are embarking on a number of new initiatives.
These initiatives include a biodiversity programme to help people identify some of the plants found in Tintern woodlands; a family orienteering programme using the carvings located along the trails and a Woodlands for Health project in conjunction with Coillte, HSE, Mental Health Ireland and Sports Active Wexford.
Tintern was chosen as a suitable location for the Woodlands for Health project in Wexford and this is being facilitated by the Trails committee. The project is designed for people using local mental health services and involves weekly walks in a woodland setting over a 12 week period.
In his address at the launch Coillte's representative and initiator of the project, Charlie Burke, said research shows that engagement with nature through outdoor activities can have a positive impact on people's mental health and well-being. An evaluation of the project in Wicklow found that participants improved their mood by 75 per cent and sleep by 66 per cent. In addition their thoughts of suicide declined by 82 per cent.
The members of the Tintern Trails Development Committee are all local people and the chairperson thanked them for their hard work in getting the trails project to this stage, for their commitment to ongoing developments and their commitment to continuing to ensure that Tintern remains the national treasure people enjoy today.