One year ago BikeBiz spoke with Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland at the start of the ten-year strategy for mountain biking aimed at raising NI’s profiles as a world class MTB destination. Twelve months on, BikeBiz checks on the progress with Chris Armstrong…
How are the plans developing?
We are continuing to ride the mountain biking wave here in Northern Ireland. One year into our ten year strategy and we have already made significant progress on a number of key objectives including the completion of initial designs for a National Trail Centre in Gortin Glen Forest Park, a Regional Trail Centre in Garvagh Forest and a Long Distance Ride through the Clogher Valley in the west of the country. Phase II trail designs have also been completed for two of our National Trail Centres in Castlewellan and Davagh Forest. Unfortunately, there has been limited opportunities to access capital funding in NI since we last spoke so we’ve concentrated on getting trail designs ‘shelf ready’ so that we are in the strongest position possible to secure funding as and when opportunities do become available.
How have MTBers responded?
It has been fantastic to see our trail centres lighting up social media with the likes of former Gee Atherton and Blake Samson singing the praises of Northern Ireland. Each of our trail centres continue to exceed initial visitor forecasts and locally there is a real sense of ‘ownership’ amongst NI’s MTB community. We are obviously very keen to encourage this sentiment and so we are consulting closely with local riders for future trail designs and phase II developments. For example, we consulted with 1,000 people regarding the potential of a National Trail Centre in Gortin Glen Forest Park and as 86 per cent of respondents were from NI we can now confidently align our own plans with MTBers.
You said the public and private sectors, and MTB community, would have to come together to make NI a true MTB destination...
The overwhelming success of NI’s new trail centres is most certainly down to how they have all been cohesively pulling in the same direction. Unlike other parts of the UK, the majority of NI’s trail centres are built on land owned by Forest Service NI who have lease agreements in place with councils. These local authorities then manage and maintain each trail centre so this approach relies heavily on public sector relationships. Our umbrella MountainBikeNI.com consortium of trail managing councils collectively benefits from this collaborative approach and have developed strong working partnerships with private sector trailhead operators and event organisers.
This article was originally published in December's BikeBiz mag as part of our Regional Spotlight on Ireland and Northern Ireland. You can read the whole issue online, for free. If you're in the bicycle trade then you can get BikeBiz magazine through the post for free.