Athy Town Waterways Development
Below is the submission I made to the Draft Athy Town Development Plan. Hopefully some of the points are taken onboard in relation to Waterways Development and water based tourism for Athy.
Boating In Athy
I would like to see two lines removed under the section 6.5.1 – Water Tourism. They are as follows
“It is considered that a longstanding obstacle to achieving improved utilisation of the waterways in the town is the deficit in safe and convenient mooring facilities. Boats and barges are being restricted in their ability to moor in Athy and this is a major disincentive to considering the town as a stopover location”
This old trope of Athy being unsafe to moor boats in is simply no longer true. In particular there is not a “deficit in safe and convenient mooring facilities”, and I believe that to have this included in the Town Development Plan only serves to push against and undo, in terms of both public recognition and policy, much of the work both local organisations and individuals have done over the past number of years in establishing Athy as a recognised safe and secure mooring location on the river Barrow. At present, there are numerous boats moored behind a gated entrance on the East bank of the river (Under AIB). These moorings are available to all waterways users, especially those visiting the town during tourism season. This makes Athy the most secure location on the Barrow and is very much recognised as such by the boating community throughout Ireland. As a result, it is not uncommon for visitors to leave their vessels long-term (up to 3 months on occasion) in Athy and return each weekend to holiday over the summer months. With the recognition of Athy as an attractive boating destination and safe location, the number of boats visiting the town has grown exponentially over the past number of years. This has led to the town being only second to Graiguenamanagh in terms of boating numbers on the entire Barrow Navigation. Therefore, I would like to suggest the following edit/amendment
“Athy has witnessed substantial growth in boating tourism in recent years. This regularly results in over demand for berths on all town centre mooring facilities. To accommodate this demand, and the predicted future growth, a major upgrade of the current in-place facilities is needed. In addition, investment to dramatically expand the number of berths and moorings available is essential”.
River wildlife & Tourism
Under Section 9 – Natural Heritage, I would like to see space made for the Irish Bat population. Having facilitated a number of Bat Walks/Surveys on the Barrow in recent years, it is evident that the section of river from Crom-a-boo Bridge to Ardreigh has a thriving population of Bats. On a number of occasions, up to seven out of the nine native Irish Bats species have been identified. Regarding this, I’d like to suggest that all future floodlighting of infrastructure for this area, in particular the New Southern Distributor Road bridge, the disused Wolfhill Railway bridge and the Horse Bridge across the river Barrow, be floodlit with Bat friendly lighting. This form of lighting, will allow the local population to continue unperturbed by the future expansion of the town. In addition, floodlighting these structures in this way will have unique tourism growth potential. This riverside area between the Horse Bridge and the New Southern Distributor Road bridge, lit with bat friendly floodlighting, could be established as Ireland’s first Bat Observatory where people can come to watch bats fly through the floodlit areas adjacent to these bridges (as has been done elsewhere in the world). This would establish Athy as a forerunner in Conservation/Eco Tourism.
River Barrow Habitat Protection
In relation to Green Infrastructure GI1.7 which states that a “biodiversity protection zone be maintained 60 meters from the river Barrow and 20 meters from the canal”. I would like to clarify/suggest that in this regard, the Lateral Cut of the Barrow Navigation from the disused Wolfhill Railway Bridge to Ardreigh lock is considered part of the river Barrow and not the Grand canal Barrow-line which terminates at Hoare’s lock (Lock 28th). In addition, due to being designated part of the river Nore and river Barrow SAC, it therefore is afforded the 60 meter protection zone from the top of the bank along this stretch.
River Barrow & Grand Canal Development
I would like to make a number of suggestions regarding the Tourism Policy Section 6.5.4 as follows:
- The establishment of a Circular Canoe/Kayaking Trail between Athy and Monasterevin. This should tie in with the new Blueway. The very successful 2015 canoe race established a kayaking/canoeing route of 47km (longest canoe race in Ireland) starting at the Jetty in Athy, down to the Horse Bridge, then up the Canal to Monasterevin before portaging into the river Barrow once more and back to the jetty at Athy. This race which Athy Rowing & Canoeing have since taken on and run every year since attracts competitors from all over Ireland. This route can be established as a leisurely tourism attraction that can be completed over a number of days. In addition, I also established a shorter 21km route that travels up the canal to the Aqueduct at Vicarstown, down onto the Stradbally river which flows into the Barrow and back to Athy. This can also be made into a shorter canoeing trail(1day) route. Please see www.facebook.com/bluewaycanoemarathon for more publicly available information, pictures and maps. These routes, I believe have significant potential, as the main issue facing those embarking on a canoeing adventure, is the need for two cars or a drop off and pick up point as 99% of all canoe trails are linear. This route allows for the one location, Athy.
- Staying with trail routes, it would be possible by working with local farmers to reopen the old Barrow riverbank route between Monasterevin and Athy that was used by the Barrow Drainage Scheme for dredging the river over decades up until recent times. This route runs adjacent to the Barrow and could be re-establish/reopened to facilitate a circular walking route between Athy and Monasterevin, taking in both the Grand canal and river Barrow. Similar to above, this allows for the use one starting/finishing point.
- As part of tourism development policy I would like to suggest the council develop parameters around the design and distribution of all published materials and leaflets. For example, I would urge the council to refrain from continually using the same old photo of Athy, taken approximately twenty years ago and showing the river Barrow, Crom-a-boo Bridge & Whites Castle prior to the instillation of the town Jetty or moored boats. We need to use modern pictures of Athy’s assets that continually sell the beauty of our town. As I’ve suggested in the past, there are numerous picture (if needed) publicly and freely available at www.facebook.com/athywaterways or www.facebook.com/boattrips.ie or www.boattrips.ie and I would please ask that all future promotional materials and otherwise use up to date relevant photographs, highlighting as a boating destination.
- I’d like to suggest the implementation of a 11km speed for watercraft on the section of Barrow above the Horse Bridge. This would mirror the Barrow Navigation speed limit of 11km and help dissuade waterskiing which has a detrimental impact on both Natural Heritage (bank erosion & nesting wildlife) and Tourism (boating & angling).
- Given that Athy is one of the most popular course angling locations in the Mid Eastern region, due to its variety of waters available (a slow flowing Barrow, a still Grand Canal, a flowing Lateral canal to Ardreigh, fast flowing back river and the static marina) an expansion in the number of wheelchair friendly fishing stands is of huge importance. In addition, designating the entire waterways of Athy as a “Catch & Release” area will further serve to attract anglers and increase tourism. This “Catch & Release” designation is already in place on all of Waterways Ireland controlled waters. Designating local waters the same will complement the policy.
- The need to complete the development of a private marina in Athy is of paramount importance not only to the town from a boating tourism perspective but the all development of Athy as a whole. Other towns up and down the waterways system, particularly on the Shannon have benefited greatly by the establishment of privately built, run and operated marinas; seeing large increases in holidaying tourist mooring vessels long-term in locations (particularly over winter months) which they can visit at weekends to take local day only boat journeys. The knock-on benefit to local shops, petrol stations, pubs and cafes are self-evident.
- There is a need to put in place a floating walkway/mooring from Crom-a-boo Bridge to the Horse Bridge on the Western bank of the river that will facilitate boating, angling, walking, kayaking, dragon boating and rowing. It would also tie in and accommodate the future needs of the proposed development on the Dominican site.
Waterways Friendly Town
Lastly, I would like to suggest that we self designate Athy as a “Waterways Friendly” town. Other towns have done this by self designating themselves as “dog friendly” or “pet friendly” towns. In doing this, we copper-fasten our commitment to attracting waterways based tourism to Athy. We commit to putting in infrastructure such as:
- kayak friendly jetties,
- triathlon/swim entry/exit points,
- wheelchair mooring facilities,
- wheelchair fishing stands,
- boat pump-out facilities and electrical hookup points,
- water safety/rescue infrastructure and training,
- long-term secure parking for trail walkers/canoers,
- canoe polo infrastructure at the harbour,
- roofing the dry dock
The list goes on, but more importantly, we commit to selling and marketing the town from a Waterways Tourism perspective. Kilkenny has its castle, Ballina has its Salmon and Killarney has it National Park. Athy can surely further develop and market it’s local Waterways.