From June 2 to 7, representatives of the International Appalachian Trail (IAT), Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and Appalachian Trail Museum gathered in Ulster Ireland for an Outdoor Economy Forum to discuss common issues and assist IAT Ulster Ireland develop a world-class trail network.
Day One began with a morning hike along Sallagh Braes basalt cliffs, which provide a spectacular view of the Northern Ireland coast and Irish Sea beyond.
The trek was guided by James McKeown of the Glens of Antrim Rambling Club and ended at one of Northern Ireland’s many Games of Thrones tv series sites.
The scene then shifted to the Ballygalley Community Center for the first of two workshops, which included introductions to the IAT, ATC, and AMC, as well as progress to date on IAT Ulster Ireland.
IAT North America was represented by chapter members from Maine (including Don Hudson, Bill Duffy and Nancy Hathaway) and Newfoundland (including Paul Wylezol and Arne Helgeland), while IAT Ulster Ireland was represented by Magne Haugseng and Martin Bradley from Northern Ireland and Inga Bock from Donegal County in the Republic.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy was represented by former Executive Director David Startzell and his wife Judy Penner (former AT Journals Editor) and Anne Elizabeth Baker, ATC Landscape Partnership Manager.
The Appalachian Mountain Club headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts was represented by Heather Clish, Director of Conservation & Recreation Policy.
After an evening of fine food and refreshments, Day Two began where Day One left off, with workshop discussion at the Ballygalley Community Centre.
Subjects included trail development, trail towns, volunteerism, social media and websites.
The workshop sessions ended with a trek through nearby Glenariff Forest Park, where the group was pleasantly surprised by the abundant vegetation, but not the lush green color.
Of course all of the strenuous activity was followed by refreshments at the park and dinner – and more refreshments – at the hotel.
Day Three was a full R&R day, which for a group of mountain hikers meant a walk in the Sperrin Mountains led by IAT Ulster Ireland’s Inga Bock and Martin Bradley.
The walk was followed by a visit to Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh
which is an open-air museum in County Tyrone with more than 30 reconstructed or relocated exhibit buildings that tell the story of three centuries of Irish emigration to North America. Using costumed guides and displays of traditional crafts, the museum focuses on those who left Ulster in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
On Day Four the scene shifted to Strabane where the Outdoor Economy Forum was held at the Derry and Strabane District Council building.
After welcome and opening remarks from Mayor Michaela Boyle and Forum organizer Magne Haugseng,
long-time ATC Executive Director David Startzell gave a presentation on the history and development of the U.S. Appalachian Trail.
David was followed by the ATC’s Anne Elizabeth Baker who gave a presentation on the AT trail corridor and adjacent land management.
AMC President John Judge introduced the audience to the Appalachian Mountain Club via recorded message and discussed the economic importance of walking.
Heather Clish then continued with a presentation that included land management and conservation.
Larry Luxenberg followed Heather with the story of the Appalachian Trail Museum at Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Pennsylvania, site of the 2009 launch of Scotland’s West Highland Way as the first IAT trail route in Europe.
Next up was IAT Maine’s Don Hudson who gave a presentation on the early formative years of the International Appalachian Trail and the development of IAT Maine.
IAT Newfoundland & Labrador’s Paul Wylezol then gave a presentation entitled Geoheritage and National Park Partnership.
After lunch professors Peter Bolan and Stephen Boyd of the University of Ulster gave a joint presentation on Tourism, Outdoor Activities and Economic Benefits.
They were followed by David Flinn discussing the Ulster Federation of Rambling Clubs
and Lucinda Blakiston Houston describing the potential of the Sperrin Mountains.
The last but not least speaker of the day was Ursula McPherson from Mountaineering Ireland who discussed opportunities associated with mountain hiking in Ireland.
The scene then shifted to Fir Trees Hotel in Strabane for a delicious meal and refreshments courtesy of IAT Ulster Ireland and the Derry and Strabane District Council.
The final day of the IAT Ulster Ireland visit saw the group make a 2-hour trek across the Northern Ireland / Republic of Ireland border from Kelly’s Bridge to the community of Legahawney in Donegal
where townsfolk welcomed them with open arms and a delicious lunch at the community hall.
IAT Ulster Ireland’s Outdoor Economy Forum was an unqualified success that included scenic hikes, informative presentations, constructive discussion and as always, fine dining and joyful camaraderie!
Many thanks to all of the organizers, presenters and community councils for a most memorable event!