Slieve Bloom Association members Cllr Seamus McDonald, Sinead Dolan and Mick Dowling at the sod turning of the Slieve Bloom Mountain bike trail
There was a local Laois welcome for the start of construction the Slieve Bloom Bike Trail, with hopes that it will bring jobs, protect the mountains and boost fitness.
Cllr Seamus McDonald is chairman of the Slieve Bloom Association.
“It is a great day for the association. We have been looking for the development of the Slieve Blooms since we formed 50 years ago. This is in keeping with the natural environment, it will encourage more people and tourism and create jobs for local people,” he said.
Mick Dowling is the heritage officer with the association.
“I can see people using it for sponsored fundraisers. I hope it will get the youth out into the Slieve Blooms, and get them exercised. I’m a walk leader I bring schools out to the mountains, and the lack of fitness is unreal. It will get families out too because there will be harder and easier trails, with everyone catered for,” he said.
He is confident the trail will not encroach on the tranquility of the mountains.
“There are 33 valleys in the Slieve Blooms, it is big enough to cater for all types of recreation. The more organisations out there involved, the more will care for the Slieve Blooms,” he said.
Sinead Dolan is secretary of the association.
"We are very excited and delighted to see some investment in the Slieve Blooms. They are very underrated. People in Portlaoise don't even know how to get here. I hope it brings some employment to the area, if not for us, for our children. It would be wonderful to have opportunities for them closer to home," she said.
Ann Goodwin CEO of Laois Partnership was also at the sod turning.
She is urging Laois people interested in starting up a business to serve visitors to the bike trail, to apply for grants now so they can be set up in time the phase I opening in October.
“We have funding for small businesses, if they are intending to set up, come and talk to us. This will be a springboard for Mountrath to develop as a hub for the cycle route,” she said.
Ms Goodwin noted that the bike trail began as a feasibility study funded by Leader in 2008.
Below: Laois and Offaly county council officials with Coillte staff, Minister Charlie Flanagan, Laois cathaoirleach Cllr Padraig Fleming and TDs Brian Stanley and Marcella Corcoran Kennedy.