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Potential of Off-Road biking in the Mournes must be realised

22 February, 2005

Sinn Fein's Environmental Spokesperson Cllr Willie Clarke MLA, welcoming the news that an international panel of experts in the field of trail development have agreed that the North of Ireland has the potential to be one of the best sites for Mountain Trial Bikes in the world has said that the potential of off-road biking in the Mournes should be fully realised.

Speaking after receiving a letter from the Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) who for the past two years have been working on the strategic development of off-road cycling in the six counties, Cllr Clarke said:

"I welcome the efforts of CAAN who have prioritised the development of an 'Off-Road Cycling Centre of Excellence' which would include trail development in Castlewellan, Tollymore and Rostrevor Forest Parks in Co. Down and Carlingford and Ravensdale forests in Co. Louth. This would make the Mournes the first mountain bike destination in Ireland. The potential benefits of the project include an investment in the rural area of approximately £1.5 million. It would also bring increased visitor numbers to the area and help encourage the development of sustainable tourism in the Mournes.

"Off-Road Cycling would ensure improved opportunities for local people to take part in a safe and enjoyable activity and encourage local riders to train for competition. It would also mean a reduction in illegal mountain bike trail development, which is often unsafe and can cause damage to the environment and conflict with other forest users.

"What is worrying therefore, is that CAAN, who have submitted several major funding applications relating to this project have yet to have one accepted and unless positive movement is made in the near future, funding of approximately £550,000 could be lost to the area.

"The project has been developed in partnership with Forest Service, Coillte, the Tourist Board and Environment and Heritage Service. It is clear that there is substantial support from other organisations and individuals throughout the Mournes and groups such as Mourne Heritage Trust, Mourne Activity Breaks, Tollymore Mountain Centre, private outdoor activity providers and local cyclists are supportive of the scheme. Sinn Fein supports the proposals put forward by the CAAN and we will be working with the Forest Service to secure greater support for this initiative that could have significant and tangible benefits for the Mournes." ENDS

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