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30/04/20 Progress made on ‘planning for the recovery of small rural communities’ through the new European Trail Gazers Project.



Recently, partners from across the Atlantic Area met online to continue planning and making progress on the new Atlantic Area Trail Gazers Project, for which Donegal County Council are lead partners. 


This project was set up to stimulate rural communities by linking strategic walking and recreational infrastructure  in areas of rich natural, built and cultural heritage with  the surrounding towns and villages.  By working with key business, tourism and community stakeholders the project sets out to develop tailored marketing material and reach new niche markets; pilot bespoke Business to Customer initiatives based on key learning insights from trail visitors and sound business acumen; nurture community led plans for the long term sustainable future of each trail site and surrounding catchment areas.   The overall ambition of this project is to enhance visits to walks and recreational trails in the region and also provide incentives for these visitors to further explore, experience and enjoy all that the surrounding towns and villages have to offer. 


It is likely that COVID-19 will have an impact on the vitality of small rural communities; therefore maximising the return from strategic investments in tourism, walks and recreational infrastructure is key to planning the recovery of such rural communities across the Atlantic Area.


This project is learning from experts in the field who have years of experience in working on trail development and knowledge of what works and what doesn’t in targeting niche walking and environmental tourists and ensuring that rural communities and infrastructure can grow sustainably to accommodate increases in visits without damaging the natural assets that visitors come to see.  These partners have selected a wide variety of trails to test best practice  methods in installing sensors and counters,  in capturing and predicting footfall patterns to future proof trail maintenance and service plans; in surveying trail users to identify factors that would enhance their experience; in working with local business in developing Business to Customer initiatives to enhance return from visitors;  in capturing digital imagery to showcase each site to new audiences; in developing  community trail plans that are focused on niche experiences etc.  


The 8 trails selected  to test this project are  in 'Chemin De Mémoires', in Bretagne, France; ‘Via Verde del Plazola' in Navarra, Spain; 'La Caldera de Taburiente’ on the Canary Island of Las Palma; the 'Seven Hanging Valleys' in the Algarve, Portugal; 'Sacred Mountain' in Viana do Castelo, Northern Portugal; the ‘Taff Trail’ in  West Wales and the Valleys;  the ‘Knocknarea/Killaspugbrone loop ‘ in Sligo and 'Inch Levels’ in Donegal. In addition Glasgow Caledonian University and Ulster University are providing important guidance on innovative technology and data capture solutions for each site.


Community input is vital to this project and to this end the partnership would like to ensure that key sectors in the rural community are represented on the ‘Project Advisory Groups’ in each of the regions.  These groups will guide the development of a ‘shared vision’ for each trail site that is based on evidence and data capture through the project  and provide a  range of shovel ready, community supported projects through practical trail plans that will ensure   sustainable rural futures.   The new Trail Gazers Website will be available this May and will allow any interested citizen to join an online community devoted to  walks and trails in the Atlantic Area.


The partnership will work tirelessly over the next number of weeks to ensure that all necessary arrangements are in place that once the restrictions are lifted this important work can continue.


Trail Gazers project is co-financed by the Interreg Atlantic Area Programme through the European Regional Development Fund.


Find out more about Trail Gazers with their brochure.


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