Hill-walk centre will give a lift to local economy

 

The people of Rathgormack, Co Waterford, are planning to send regular expeditions into the hills on the trail of Crotty the Robber. The famous (or infamous) 18th-century outlaw is long dead, but his stronghold high in the Comeragh Mountains will be a prime destination of the hiking parties soon to be invited to the area in a project aimed at developing the local economy.

This small north Waterford community has little infrastructure but is on the point of exploiting its great natural resource, the underdeveloped tourism potential of its scenically dramatic surroundings.

The finishing touches are being put to a new building which will operate as a hill-walking centre, with accommodation and other facilities for visitors who are drawn to explore the unspoiled natural environment of the nearby mountain range.

The centre has an artificial wall for rock-climbing practice and catering and laundry facilities, and will function both as a contact point and an information centre for tourists in the area.

The project originated in 1994, when members of the community came together to devise a plan for integrated rural development. A five-year plan was drawn up, with the assistance of Waterford Development Partnership, and the group successfully applied for grant aid from the LEADER II programme.

The centre, now nearing completion, has cost £270,000, of which £120,000 was supplied by LEADER funding. It will facilitate varied mountaineering and orienteering activities, and will provide some employment locally, although most of the jobs will be seasonal at the start.

Future developments may include cycling and mountain-bike trails, art and photography weekends, bird-watching and various winter activities. The Rathgormack project also hopes to link up with the Nire Valley, just a 20-minute drive away, to co-ordinate joint hill-walking routes and pony trekking.

Tony Bolger, chairman of the Rathgormack Community Development Committee, said a core principle in designing the hiking centre was to ensure that development should cause minimal obtrusion on the landscape.

Protection and improvement of the visual amenity is a primary objective. The Comeraghs are protected under EU regulations as a Special Area of Conservation. The impact of the Ice Age was dramatic on this mountain range, and its deep-sided corries are among the finest in the country.