A FEASIBILITY study to examine the possibility of a ‘sustainable and sensitively-built’ path to allow the public easier access to the top of Slemish Mountain is one of the key recommendations in a report.
A recommendation in the report says a feasibility study should be carried out to investigate the potential for such a path along with a looped walk around the base of the mountain as well as visitor information and ‘on site’ facilities.
The Slemish path recommendation is contained in a ten year action plan looking at outdoor recreation which has been prepared for Mid & East Antrim Borough Council.
The report says: ‘Slemish Mountain is a signature project due to its very distinctive feature within the Borough’s landscape and its rich spiritual heritage’.
The report says the mountain’s shape is the result of being the central core of an extinct volcano.
It adds: ‘In relation to its spiritual heritage, according to legend, Slemish Mountain is the first known home of Saint Patrick where he worked as a shepherd for six years and where he is believed to have been converted to Christianity.’
The report says the mountain is accessible to the public and on Saint Patrick’s Day large crowds hike to the top as a pilgrimage with the 1.5kilometre walk to the summit and back taking approximately an hour.
‘With only a 15-minute drive from Broughshane and Ballymena it is an attraction for both locals and visitors to the area,’ the report adds.
The report continues: ‘However, consultations revealed safety concerns about the steep and rocky nature of the 180-metre climb and how after the grassy track to the foot of the mountain from the carpark users must follow desire lines or choose their own route up and down the steep slopes.
‘In places, over-use is causing erosion and damage to the landscape.
‘Furthermore, the lack of effective marketing to attract visitors until recent MEABC (Council) ‘Shaped by Sea and Stone’ tourism campaign, has meant that Slemish Mountain is another under-utilised outdoor recreation site with considerable potential in the Borough.’
The recommendation in the report is: ‘Develop a professionally-designed, sustainable and sensitively built path from the base of Slemish Mountain to the summit and a looped walk around the mountain that incorporates surrounding historic sites connected to Saint Patrick.
‘These actions would maximise the outdoor recreation potential of this signature natural landmark by improving safety for walkers and making the summit more accessible to a broader range of visitors, such as families who are weary of the current slippery nature of the path in wet weather.
‘Showcasing via interpretation the expansive 360-degree views from the summit of the Antrim and Scottish coasts to the east; Ballymena town, Lough Neagh and the Sperrin Mountains to the west and the Bann Valley and the higher summits of the Antrim hills to the north.
‘Incorporating a looped walk around Slemish Mountain that would enable more locals and visitors to enjoy longer trails and spend more time on the site and engage with its unique natural and spiritual heritage.
‘In addition to improving the infrastructure, improvements should also be made to visitor services including installing visitor welcome and improving interpretation and toilet facilities.
‘With increased visitors a mobile catering kiosk run by a private operator could also provide refreshments during the peak tourism season adding another important component to the visitor experience’.
The report says guided tours at the mountain could be considered.