AS the Marble Arch Geopark admits it is struggling to cope with the phenomenal popularity of the Cuilcagh Mountain boardwalk, the Council has set about putting a number of measures in place in an attempt to deal with the huge volumes of traffic attempting to access the site.
Always popular with locals, even before the boardwalk was opened in 2015, news of Cuilcagh’s beautiful landscape and stunning views has been spreading like wildfire across the country, with “the stairway to Heaven”, as it’s become known, now on many “bucket lists.”
In fact, over the past two years the number of visitors to the mountain has increased by 700 percent, now totalling tens of thousands. This has led to extreme traffic issues for both visitors and locals on the rural roads approaching the 2,500 hectare site, particularly on bank holidays and warm days, such as Monday past.
A spokesman for Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, which manages the site, said they were working with various departments and agencies, such as Transport NI, the PSNI, and DAERA, as well as local landowners, to come up with solutions to the problem.
They said: “In anticipation of the continuing high level of visitors to Cuilcagh and to the Marble Arch Caves throughout the summer, measures that will be implemented to address traffic issues include the deployment of additional staff at peak times to direct traffic, provision of additional signage, undertaking minor works to the road and opening of car parking and facilities at the Killykeegan Nature Reserve.”
In reference to the congestion of recent bank holidays, the Council blamed “a small number of visitors not co-operating with Council officials directing traffic on the day and parking inappropriately causing access issues for local residents and the emergency services, had they been required.”
Thanking those “who acted responsibly and parked with care”, the Council asked visitors to always park responsibly, and to never block access or park in a private lane.
They also encouraged walkers to dress appropriately for mountain conditions, as well as bringing supplies such as maps, water and snacks, and asked visitors to follow the “leave no trace” principal.
Meanwhile, staff at the Marble Arch Caves Geopark have urged visitors to be patient.
“As many of you are aware, we are experiencing unprecedented visitor numbers to Cuilcagh Legnabrocky Way. While we are delighted that so many people are enjoying this magical landscape, we are struggling to cope with the sheer numbers,” they said.
“We would appreciate your patience and co-operation as we continue to work towards a solution.”
“Stop discussing and do something”
RESIDENTS and landowners in the Marlbank area, including the elderly, are being blocked out of their homes and farms, and are being forced to walk for miles, at times of peak interest in Cuilcagh.
Louise Gilheany, who filmed a video of the extreme congestion on Easter Monday which saw tailbacks going back for miles, farms land in the area and has family who live there. She urged the Council to “stop discussing and do something.”
“Weekends are increasingly getting busier and as a local farmer it is affecting us getting to the farm and we have cows calving and sheep lambing and we need to get to them and check the farm regularly,” she said.
“Traffic is slowing us up and if on the tractor it is impossible to get by the cars parked on the roadside.”
Ms Gilheany said some motorists where ignoring private property signs and “just abandoning their cars” and were even opening gates to land, allowing sheep on to the road which could cause an accident.
She added when she filmed her video on Easter Monday, which has since gone viral, she had failed to listen to her brother’s warnings about traffic in the area and couldn’t believe her eyes when she arrived.
“Residents couldn’t get up or down the road and some parked their cars and walked for miles to get home,” she said. “Home carers couldn’t get to an elderly client up this road.”
She added: “The traffic volume between the caves and the walk has multiplied from last year at a rate no one could have foreseen, but what did the council expect?
“Advertising the walk and promoting it but doing nothing about the road and facilities, the road needs widened and a large car park. There are no facilities for the walkers, no toilets, no defibrillator, no refreshments.”
As for suggestions the Council should start charging for access to the site, Ms Gilheany said: “Why should they pocket the money it was EU funded not council funded so they shouldn’t be able to cash in.
“The Council needs to widen the road and build a bigger car park, one way system will not work for cars will still be parked on road side leaving tractors and jeeps with trailers not able to pass.”
“As for the summer, I dread to think!”
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Posted: 8:33 am May 5, 2017