The success story that is Tintern Trails was celebrated at the official opening of a 38-space car park at its entrance.
The Coillte-run trails attracted 181,000 visitors last year and has bucked the trend nationally with an increase of 2,000 visitors during the first quarter of this year.
Coillte CEO Imelda Hurley said she was thrilled to finally get to Tintern, saying it is a model for how forests should be run.
The car park has 38 spaces, including two for drivers who have disabilities.
Forest manager Liam Stafford said: “We originally started with hardcore and last March tarmacadam was laid.”
He said it was a huge moment when Tintern Trails won an RDS award last year.
“We are building on that.”
With around 10kms of trails, the venue is attracting higher and higher numbers. In 2019 147,00 people visited, compared to 143,000 the following year when the trails were effectively empty of human life for six weeks due to Covid restrictions. Last year 181,000 people visited,
“People come here regularly, many walking their dogs.”
Around €200,000 in Department of Rural & community Development funding has been given to the trails over recent years, much of which has been spent and is being spent on upgrading the paths.
The next big project could see the old mill transformed into an interpretive centre and cafe.
Recreational manager for Leinster Jaspar Peterson said new composting toilets were put in last October. “With Covid there has been an increase in visitors who started to need facilities like a coffee truck and toilets. The coffee truck is here every day during the summer.”
Business manager for Coillte in the south east, Ken Sweeney said Tintern is a template site. “It’s what we want to roll out in other parts of the country because of the collaboration with the community and the ground workers and Coillte. It is realising its potential with the walled garden, the trails, the toilets and car park.
“We are very, very proud of the RDS prize.”
Richard Finn of Hook Rural Tourism and Fethard development committee said a consultation process began with the OPW and Coillte in 2016, out of which a five year plan was developed.
“That plan identified some aspects which had been successful and some shortcomings. There is a crying need for a cafe space because people come here not just to walk, but to meet friends and family and have a coffee so Tintern has become quite a focal point for people to get outdoors and it does need future development to enhance its offering.”
Mr Finn said Coillte has done a fantastic job in developing the amenity in partnership with the local Tintern crew.
At the launch Mr Stafford directed people to an app on the noticeboard which can be downloaded to listen to the history of the area as visitors walk around the trails located in 140 acres of forest.
Ms Hurley said she was arriving as Coillte was launching its future strategic vision running to 2050.
“At the heart of it is recognition that forests must deliver multiple benefits for people, local communities, recreation, jobs, mature, carbon, climate, sustainable wood for homes. Tintern is a brilliant example of a county council, a community and Coillte coming together. I want to thank everyone for coming together to make Tintern happen.”
Everyone enjoyed a walk through the trails, a bare-footed dip in one of Tintern’s streams, a visit to Colcough Gardens where they were welcomed by manager, Alan Ryan, and some pizza and coffee afterwards at the coffee truck stop near the abbey.