Fáilte Ireland today announced that Ireland will be included in the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) - an extension of the world renowned and globally popular walking route, the Appalachian Trail. The original 2,000 mile trail, which currently stretches all the way along the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia to Maine, welcomes an estimated 2.5 million hikers each year.
The proposed link will see Irish section of the international trail will start at the spectacular coastal cliffs of Slieve League in County Donegal and extend to the stunning Antrim coast, finishing in Ballycastle. It is proposed that the new section would utilise existing trails in south Donegal eastwards from Slieve League (Bealach Na Gaeltachta - Slí Colmcille, Bluestacks Way etc) and would then continue into Northern Ireland.
The Canadian Ambassador to Ireland, His Excellency Loyola Hearn, welcomed the extension of Ireland to the IAT saying -
“The extension of the International Appalachian Trail to Europe and in particular scenic Ireland, offers a whole new dimension for hikers and other lovers of the outdoors."
Paul Wylezol, Chairman of the International Appalachian Trail added -
“With its direct physical connection to Newfoundland across geologic time, and its cultural and ethnic connection to eastern Canada and the US in modern times, we are especially pleased to have Ireland a part of the IAT family!”
Organisers hope to link the IAT to all terrains that were once the Appalachian Mountains of Pangaea which includes Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Norway and Greenland as these regions share a common geological heritage.
It is anticipated that such a link, based on a shared geology, would promote greater tourism and education opportunities between these regions and also serve to promote the fantastic walking opportunities that exist in each country.
Ciara Scully from the Destination Development Division at Fáilte Ireland said -
“We are delighted to support the extension of the IAT to Ireland. It will help position Ireland in the USA and Canada as a top walking destination and it is a fantastic marketing opportunity to position particularly Donegal & Northern Ireland with a cross-border walking trail.”
Ms Scully continued -
“Research carried out by Fáilte Ireland into the potential of walking for tourism shows walking as the most popular activity to attract visitors to Ireland over the next five years.
“Over the past four years, Fáilte Ireland has invested €10 million in upgrading linear walking routes as well as supporting the development of 250 fully off road looped walks in scenic areas. We will continue to invest in the infrastructure required to position Ireland as a world class destination for walkers.”
Walking represents one of Ireland’s top activities and was enjoyed by almost 1.9m visitors in 2009. Indeed, research by Fáilte Ireland shows that walking is extremely popular with both domestic holidaymakers (over 860,000 people) and overseas visitors (up to 830,000) enjoying the wide range of walking facilities around the country during the same period.