Walk this way: Ronan’s tourism drive

Roscommon Rural Recreation Officer Ronan Bilbow and his hard-working colleagues at Roscommon LEADER Partnership play a hugely important role in maintaining the Suck Valley Way and other walkways around Co.  Roscommon.

Ronan says there are around 170 landowners along the three waymarked trails in the county and his job involves engaging with both them and local communities to ensure proper access to amenities.

“Our roles are under the Department of Rural and Community Development and we are employed by Roscommon LEADER Partnership and our remit involves Roscommon and Longford.

“Our primary role is with the Walks Scheme and that involves payments to landowners to carry out maintenance so people can access walkways,” he explained.

“The Suck Valley Way, for example, is up to 120km long when you include all the alternative routes, and it involves approximately 80 landowners. Our job is to liaise with them, ensuring that the land is okay and checking what supports they require, and whether there may be a way they can diversify”.

Regular inspections are part of the job and Ronan says he’s lucky to have the privilege of checking on the Suck Valley Way twice a year.

He said that due to an ageing population, Rural Recreation Officers check in with landowners to make sure maintenance can be carried out.

“The Rural Social Scheme is a huge element in all of this. Landowners can be nominated to look after certain sections and this is an integral part (in the upkeep of walkways). The Recreation Officers get a lot of praise but I can’t speak highly enough of the Rural Social Scheme,” Ronan said.

Ronan has been in his current role for two years now and it’s part of a five-year plan. The long-term goal is sustainability.

“We are trying to have as much of the infrastructure as maintenance-free as possible,” he said.

“The long-term goal is to make sure the infrastructure on walkways is on point and so we’re working to make sure it’s as bulletproof as possible”.

Around €100,000 has been spent across the Suck Valley Way in the last two years under the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme (ORIS) and Walk Schemes funds. By the end of 2024, the aim is to have as much as 80 per cent of the infrastructure future-proofed.

“We’re now turning the screw and marketing this as a destination for both visitors and local people and that’s where the recent Suck Valley Way Conference comes in,” Ronan said.

“If you can build infrastructure for all abilities then you are building it for everyone and if you can include the youth in that then you build it forever. Getting the youth engaged is very important because it gives them ownership of the trails.

“If we can then get more people using our trails in Roscommon they will be our ambassadors and spread the word further afield”.

Theses are exciting times for outdoor recreation in Roscommon and Ronan says the annual Suck Valley Way Conference and Roscommon LEADER Partnership are important drivers for the county.

While the long-term plan is sustainability and getting the word out about Roscommon’s walking trails, in the next few months it is hoped to increase engagement among local communities. With that in mind, Ronan urges people across Roscommon to keep an eye out for details of planned walks taking place in their locality this summer.