Following the publication of the Strategic Review of Canoeing in Northern Ireland (2002) by Sport Northern Ireland and the Inland Waterways Division of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), ORNI was commissioned to deliver a key objective i.e. the development of a series of canoe trails to increase participation in paddlesports from locals and tourists alike.
Between 2003 – 2013, we undertook the following:
- Establishment of a Strategic Delivery Group to ensure a consistent approach to delivery and standards – this included representatives from Sport NI, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, DCAL Inland Waterways, Rivers Agency, Canoe Association of Northern Ireland
- Review of international best practice – at the time there were no such canoe trails within UK & Ireland so research extended to US National Parks and French rivers such as the Loire and Dordogne.
- Extensive one-to-one and workshop consultation with canoeists and activity providers to ascertain needs, motivations and practical requirements
- Development of a standard template for:
- Canoe Trail Guides
- Canoe Trail Interpretation
- Management agreements for access / egress points, campsites and bothies.
- Development of a code of practice and safety guidelines for canoe trail participants
- Establishment of agreement with Transport NI regarding approach to installation of white-on-brown directional signage
- Establishment of CanoeNI.com and ongoing proactive promotion of Northern Ireland’s Canoe Trails
- Establishment of a Canoe Trail Volunteer Ranger Programme
Delivery for each canoe trail:
- Waterway scoping to assess feasibility for canoe trail development
- Identification of relevant project partners / stakeholders
- Establishment of Canoe Trail Development Group relevant to each trail – for example for Lough Erne this included Waterways Ireland, Fermanagh District Council, The National Trust, RSPB, key activity providers and the local canoe club
- Securing of external funding
- Liaison with public landowners and managers to agree and secure management agreements for access / egress points, campsites and bothies
- Engagement with activity providers to recruit events, guided trips and canoe hire offering
- Design and development of canoe access infrastructure e.g. canoe steps and campsites
- Design and production of visitor information i.e. waterproof canoe trail guides, interpretation panels, white-on-brown directional road signage
Since the launch of the Lough Erne Canoe Trail in 2005, ORNI had lead the development of:
- Blackwater Canoe Trail (2008) with the addition of Copney Campsite (wild campsite) (2012)
- Lower Bann Canoe Trail & Lough Neagh Canoe Trail (2009)
- Strangford Lough Canoe Trail including Salt Island Bothy (2010)
- Foyle Canoe Trail, North Coast Sea Kayak Trail (including Port Moon Bothy), East Coast Canoe Trail, South East Coast Canoe Trail (2012-2013)
- Trannish Island Bothy on Lough Erne Canoe Trail (2012)
In 2008 the Lough Erne Canoe Trail won the Innovation Category at the UK Waterways Renaissance Awards, run by The Waterways Trust and British Urban Regeneration Association. This was the first time that a project in Northern Ireland had won this award.
The canoe trails have been recognised as international best practice with ORNI facilitating several organisations undertaking learning journeys to inform the development of trails and water recreation within their own jurisdiction e.g. Snowdownia Active, The Great Glen Canoe Trail Partnership, British Waterways, Canal and Rivers Trust, Canoeing Ireland and Tipperary County Council.