The Department funds the employment of 12 Rural Recreation Officers through 12 Local Development Companies (LDCs) in counties Kilkenny, Donegal, Sligo, Roscommon, Laois, Kerry, Tipperary, Cork, Wicklow, Mayo and Clare, as well as the Galway Gaeltacht.
The Rural Recreation Officer acts as a contact person for walking tourists and will provide a wide range of support and advice. They also liase regularly with landowners to ensure that good working relationships are maintained and any concerns are addressed.
The responsibilities of the Rural Recreation Officer include:
- The implementation of the National Countryside Recreation Strategy.
- The work associated with the roll-out of the National Walks Scheme.
- Overseeing work on the maintenance, upgrade and re-routing of trails.
- Assisting Fáilte Ireland in the development, marketing and promotion of trails and key walking destinations, including media and trade visits.
- Work with local communities in developing trails and assisting in organising walking festivals.
- Implementation of the ‘Leave No Trace’ Initiative.
The Department and Fáilte Ireland have invested considerable resources in the training and development of the team of 12 RROs. They are central to the on-going operation of the Walks Scheme, the implementation of the National Countryside Recreation Strategy and assisting Fáilte Ireland in the development and promotion of trails, including the Fáilte Ireland National Looped Walks, which were funded by Department of Community, Equality & Gaeltacht Affairs.
This Scheme has resulted in the development and enhancement of nearly 40 trails. The RROs have also negotiated and managed maintenance contracts with over 1,890 landowners. As a result, significant social and economic spin-off for local communities has been achieved including:
- The leveraging of additional jobs in the accommodation sector.
- The development of new business ventures such as bike hire and coffee shops, including additional employment in the supply of outdoor recreational equipment and services.
- A marked growth in registered walking clubs.
- A significant increase in the number and duration of walking festivals which generate additional bed nights in small villages and the wider rural area.
- Maintenance payments to landholders for trail development, generating an income stream for rural communities of some 5.4m euro over a 4 year period.
- An injection of some 0.6m euro into the local economy, over the same period, as a result of expenditure on materials for the maintenance of trails.