Date Posted: 08.03.2017
Winner: Discovery Park, Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny.
The Castlecomer Discovery Park operates as a Social Community Enterprise and comprises 25ha of old woodland which is part of a larger Coillte forest property, located on the outskirts of Castlecomer town. It is situated on the grounds that once formed part of the Wandesforde estate, the family that owned the local coal mines. Unique features of the woodland are the diversity of tree species such as elm , oak, noble fir, sycamore, spruces, larches and the most striking of all, a stand of yew which sweeps down to the bank of the lake.
Successful fundraising efforts, supported by a Leader capital grant, enabled the local committee to undertake the building of a visitor centre and the renovation of old farm buildings which now house design craft workshops, coffee house and a coal mining museum. The original walled garden is now home to a herd of fallow and sika deer and a flock of Jacob sheep.
There is a constantly evolving range of outdoor woodland activities and facilities including – leisure boating, hand-crafted fairy village, tree top walk, Ireland’s longest overwater zipline , an advanced high ropes course, orienteering and walking trails. Currently plans are also in place for a 12 Km Community Biking Trail in the surrounding forest with the main trail heads in the Discovery Park.
This is a model scheme showing how the management of existing woodlands can serve to support a range of recreational activities. Success of the project is exemplified by high level of visitor numbers (approx. 120,000/year).
The judges were very impressed with the enthusiasm and professionalism by which the Park is being managed; also, the close cooperation between Coillte and the Park staff and how commercial forest operations can still take place within the general area without conflict.
Today, 10 years after opening, this community project is listed as Kilkenny’s 3rd most popular visitor attraction. Development still continues and Management is active in conceiving of future additional uses and strategies for the Park.
Runner Up: Dunmore East Woods and Park Trust, Dunmore East, Co. Waterford.
The Dunmore East Woods are 13.5 ha of mixed old woodland which form a backdrop to the village of Dunmore East in Co. Waterford. Uniquely, this is a community owned woodland, granted by the 7th Marquis of Waterford in 1924 to the people of Dunmore East and the surrounding district for their recreational use. It is run by trustees from the local community who have the responsibility for the management and maintenance of the woodlands in perpetuity. The trust is a completely voluntary body and is continuously raising funds to cover insurance, maintenance of the woods and safeguarding its boundaries.
The woodlands have recently undergone extensive refurbishment in conjunction with Forestry Services Ltd, Kilkenny with funding from the Neighbourwood Scheme. Extensive works included major plantings, replacement of over mature trees, renewal of overgrown paths. Attractive and clearly set out information boards have been provided which give information on paths, fauna and flora. It is a valuable resource for the village and is extensively used by both the local community and visitors and is particularly popular for Sunday walks. It is also used by local schools for nature walks and heritage groups