Tens of thousands flock to ‘Stairway to Heaven’

EDUCATION could be key to controlling the crowds that have been descending on Cuilcagh in recent weeks, by letting visitors know they are walking on much more than just a social media friendly tourist attraction.
Since the lockdown was eased, and with the entire country seemingly holidaying at home this year, tens of thousands have been flocking to Fermanagh to tick the now famous ‘Stairway to Heaven’ off their bucket lists.
This has been causing traffic problems as well as safety fears, due to the difficulty social distancing on the narrow boardwalk. The crowds have also been leaving litter, and some have been stepping on to the previous bog the boardwalk was built to protect.
The crowds have been so big the Marble Arch Geopark has been urging people to put their visits off until later in the year.
“There was something like 4,300 people climbed in one day recently,” said Cllr Chris McCaffrey. “Prior to the boardwalk being constructed the average annual number of climbers would have been around 3,000. It was hobby walkers, in no way was it an attraction.”
Cllr McCaffrey explained the boardwalk was built as part of a conservation effort to restore the fragile cotton blanket bog, with its unique flora and fauna. However, through the beauty of the local landscape, it has grown into a phenomenal tourism success. Sometimes too successful.
“It’s a recurring problem,” he said. “On one hand it’s great people are showing an interest and appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds us, but on the other hand it is causing havoc in some ways.
Cllr McCaffrey was not in favour of restricting numbers climbing the mountain, but said visitors should be urged to respect the environment when they visit.
He said educational signage at the site would help visitors appreciate its importance, and suggested broadcast media such as the BBC could play a part by making a documentary explaining its history.

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