Trail of Dreams - Page 3

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The hook comes by dangling the prospect of increased tourism revenue that will come with improved mountain biking facilities—from well-maintained, challenging terrain to toilets and car parks—and increased numbers of active-minded visitors extending their itineraries beyond the Republic of Ireland's well-trammeled Dingle paths and the coastal routes of County Cork. With the coordinated expertise of IMBA and CAAN, this vision of a superior and well-managed trail network can only serve to benefit all—the tourism Mandarins, local hotels, publicans, and local and visiting riders alike.

But if you build it, will they come? Ireland as a whole has long been feted as a unique and attractive multisport destination, with a plethora of activities on the slate, from biking, boating, hiking, rock climbing, spelunking—even surfing. Yet, the specter of Northern Ireland's long-lasting "Troubles" still lingers; the graffiti-strewn walls of Belfast's hardcore loyalist and republican 'hoods will do little to convince many outsiders that the conflict is fully resolved. Just recently, Tony Blair opted to postpone Northern Ireland's Assembly elections because the IRA have yet to unequivocally renounce their paramilitary operations.

While the security situation is of some concern, it is worth noting that it's a deterrent as opposed to a terminal problem. Dafydd Davis confidently notes that Northern Ireland "is a stunning part of the world, which welcomes visitors with open arms. You are far more likely to get mugged in London than in Belfast or Derry." For all involved there's a long, long road to follow, one that will require some serious funding from government agencies and other channels such as the EU, plenty of diplomatic maneuvering to ensure local landowners are on board, and thousands of labor-intensive volunteer hours to bring the dream of an internationally renown mountain bike offering to fruition. Yes, there are a slew of moving parts to bring it all to a boil, a project that CAAN's Linda McGibbon anticipates will be completed in June 2006. But, once the wheels start turning, it promises to be gear-grinding, bone-shuddering ride to success.

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