Greenway puts a hidden asset back on track
INNOVATION PROFILE: Mayo county CouncilQUITE OFTEN it is the simplest ideas that are the most innovative and ultimately the most successful. The award-winning Great Western Greenway in Co Mayo, Ireland’s first off-road walking and cycling path, is an excellent example of such a simple idea in action.
The Greenway runs along the line of the disused Westport to Achill railway track, which closed in 1937. At 42km it is the longest such facility in the country and the first portion of the National Cycle Network to be developed.
Those walking or cycling along it enjoy spectacular views of the landscape, the Atlantic Ocean and Clew Bay, as well as shaded areas where they can enjoy the tranquillity of this unique rural setting.
The project has proved tremendously successful already. In its first year of operation – since mid-2011 – a new cycling culture has evolved in all of the towns and villages along the track. About 145,000 people have used the route, contributing more than €7 million to the local economy and supporting more than 90 jobs in the process.
The project originated in a 2006 proposal by elected Mayo County Council members to upgrade the county’s walking tourism product, says Anna Connor, Mayo County Council walking and cycling development officer.
“They proposed that we look at what they had in the English Lake District and we found that the area was full of tourists with a great buzz,” she says. “Mayo has everything that the Lake District has in terms of natural beauty and proximity to an international airport, so we decided to look at what we could do [to get the idea off the ground].”
This led to the council receiving funding from the Department of Transport to open up the railway line to cyclists.
The Greenway is not just for walkers and cyclists, however, but appeals to large sections of society. It has become a world- class holiday attraction, an idyllic linear recreational park, a sustainable transport corridor and an employment-generating enterprise that has stimulated regeneration, entrepreneurialism and no little pride among the communities along its route.
“It is a major signature project for us in Mayo County Council and the other development organisations in the county,” says development officer Neil Sheridan.
“What it has generated for the local economy has been fantastic. While using the route is free, a lot of people stop for tea, ice cream and so on and spend money in other ways.
“This is inspiring entrepreneurs and acting as a catalyst for growth, regeneration and community development.”
Examples of this entrepreneurial activity include the Gourmet Greenway, a food trail showcasing artisan food produced along or near the route, and Artists on the Greenway, a painting, education and exhibition initiative of local artists and sculptors.