There are calls for increased investment in Ireland’s mountain routes after a ‘massive’ increase in hikers during the coronavirus pandemic.
On The Hard Shoulder with Kieran Cuddihy this evening, guidebook author and chairman of Pilgrim Paths Ireland John G O'Dwyer said there has been a huge rise in interest in Ireland’s uplands this year.
“It is everywhere, I would say maybe double or three times the numbers of people out on the mountains,” he said. “This has been growing very much exponentially anyway in the last few years but there have been massive, massive numbers recently.
“Because there is nothing else on. You can’t go to a GAA match, you can’t go to a rugby match, there are no concerts on, there are no festivals on; so, I would say the outdoors now have become the playground of the nation.”
He said the increasing popularity of the countryside offers a “huge gain” for Ireland – even if there are some drawbacks we must be careful about.
“I think we have never maybe fully realised the resources we have in the way they have perhaps in Britain,” he said.
“There are obviously physical and mental health benefits from getting out and exercising but there are incremental mental health benefits from exercising in green spaces.
“That has been shown by peer-reviewed research so it is a win/win all the way and relatively low-cost as well.”
Looking forward to joining @kierancuddihy on his first edition of @TheHardShoulder on Newstalk today at 6.20pm, when we will be discussing the benefits from the fact that huge numbers are presently visiting our upland areas, but also the problems this is creating. pic.twitter.com/xiNaArdNY6
— John G O'Dwyer (@Johngodwyer1) August 31, 2020
He said many people who are relatively new to the outdoors are not familiar with the countryside code – with cars parked alongside narrow roads and a lack of respect for fragile ecosystems.
“It is not a resource you can use and use, it is like anything else in the tourism sector, you have to invest,” he said.
“We have to invest in more carparking facilities as well as making people aware of other access points – because when it comes to Wicklow, everybody heads out to Glendalough because that is the one they have heard of.”
He said some of the more popular trails also need marked pathways to keep hikers off the bog-lands.
“We build it from the local stone so there is one path to the top that everyone uses,” he said.
“Because when you have blanket bog what happens is, if enough people walk along it, it is soft and gets mucky and then you go right or left to get around it but if enough people do that, the path gets wider and then you end up with a path that is 40 metres wide and is totally mucky.”
You can listen back here: