The cycling and walking options available to people in Westmeath are about to receive a massive boost with the opening this summer of a new cycleway linking the county’s two biggest towns.
The cycleway from Mullingar to the Garrycastle area of Athlone is nearing completion and Westmeath County Council has said that, if all goes according to plan, it will be opened to the public in mid-July.
The Mullingar to Garrycastle section will form part of a national Dublin to Galway cycleway which is being developed as a national tourist attraction.
While site work on the cycleway between Mullingar and Garrycastle began last September, council Director of Services Barry Kehoe said the preparations for this development started all of eight years ago.
“From our point of view it’s great to be working on something in which there is so much public interest,” said Mr Kehoe.
A cycleway from Mullingar, heading east along the Royal Canal to the Meath county border, was officially opened last year and Mr Kehoe said the public had been “voting with their feet” and making good use of this section.
However, he said the Mullingar to Athlone cycleway had the advantage of connecting these two urban centres along with other villages and towns such as Moate.
“People are working hard to deliver this section of cycleway to a high standard and maintain it to a high standard, as once it’s in place we will need to ensure that it is not neglected,” said Mr Kehoe.
“It’s great to be putting in place something that will make a positive contribution to people’s health and wellbeing, and will maybe help them achieve personal fitness goals they’ve set for themselves.”
The major economic benefits of the development, he felt, would not be evident until the cycleway between Dublin and Galway was fully completed and opened to the public.
“This section is going to have local and regional benefits, but the big benefits for the county will come when the full cycleway is in place because that’s when we will see it marketed nationally and internationally as an attraction.”
Westmeath County Council is the lead agency managing the project from Maynooth to Galway.
The Garrycastle to Galway section of the project is already proving controversial as it is likely to require the compulsory purchase, by the local authority, of lands through which the cycleway will pass.
Several farmers who are likely to be affected have voiced their opposition to this and some local representatives claimed that developers of the cycleway are “attempting to bulldoze” it through.