There can be a tendency to dismiss greenways as just creating routes for tourists that have no value to communities, but in fact the main beneficiaries of trails are the communities through which they pass.
Greenways deliver obvious benefits, a place to walk and cycle away from traffic, a place to push a buggy and let small children run and play, a safe commuting route to school and work, the value of healthy exercise. But there are other advantages to having a national trail on your doorstep.
Greenways create jobs; this has been the experience everywhere. From cycle hire to service jobs in the food and construction sectors, the invigoration of an area by developing a trail through it results in a lot of extra work, and somebody has to be paid to so it. These jobs are sustainable too; they don’t disappear to a low-wage economy when taxes change.
Greenways improve the quality of life for everyone. In the case of old railways or canal towpaths, cleaning them up and making them accessible gets rid of dereliction, fly-tipping of waste and antisocial behaviour. Making an area a nice place to visit makes it a nice place to live.
Greenways create business opportunities. The increase in economic activity that a greenway brings will create opportunities for enterprising people. Hotels reopen, and guesthouse accommodation is revived. Farmers in Northumberland were some of the biggest beneficiaries of the Hadrians’s Wall Path; many of them turned old stone sheds into camping barns and are earning significant income from these enterprises. The same trail spawned a number of baggage-carrying companies that move bags from one hotel or guesthouse to the next each day, leaving walkers to travel unencumbered. These same companies also provide a courier service along the route that supports other small enterprises.
Greenways keep existing businesses open for the benefit of local people. We complain when key local businesses close, but additional visitors to an area can keep them open. In Waterford the Deise Greenway now supports a number of thriving businesses that were headed for closure before the development took place. Newly created businesses also serve the local population.
Greenways increase property values. The experience everywhere has been that property values tend to increase when a greenway is developed, and it is common to see property advertised in relation to its distance from such infrastructure.
Greenways attract other jobs. One of the key factors used by companies in deciding on a location is the quality of life in the area, essential to retain staff. A region with no ‘quality of life’ attractions will be quickly dismissed by an industry seeking a base in Ireland.
Louth Greenway a Shining Example
A greenway on Co. Louth is a shining example of how this type of tourist infrastructure can bring prosperity to a marginalised region. In recent years, the Carlingford to Omeath Greenway has proved hugely popular both as a local amenity and as a tourist attraction. Businesses in Carlingford report an increased year-round upswing directly as a result of the Greenway being created. The region displayed many similarities to South Sligo; isolated towns and villages, unemployment yet stunning scenery.
The benefits of the Greenway to the economy of this corner of the Wee County - through accommodation, restaurants, and bike rental - was so notable that the route is currently being extended as far as Newry. This extension will spectacularly pass right through Carlingford Lough with the Newry Ship Canal on one side and the open Lough on the other! The route will form part of the Great Eastern Greenway, which once completed, will provide a traffic-free link from Carlingford to Portadown, Co Armagh.
Hopefully this is an example that will be followed in Sligo in the near future through the use of the disused railway running between Collooney and Bellaghy.
Oh, Mary this Greenway’s a wonderful sight with people out walking by day and by night. It’s neat and it’s fenced with clear pathway beneath and there are gangs of them cycling all the way to Omeath.
At least when I walked there that’s what I could tell And I wondered if Sligo could have one as well; To have a wee Greenway like the one there’s to see Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea!