Cairngorms Outdoor Access Trust

In the last issue, I mentioned a workshop arranged for February to prioritise path repairs. In the event, bad weather intervened and the workshop was postponed. Unfortunately, when it actually happened, the weather was glorious: a truly magnificent winter's day. The participants were all grumbling, wishing that they were out in the hills making the best use of the snow and sun!

The focus of the workshop shifted from the advertised prioritising path repairs to working on the next COAT bid for Lottery funding. Guidance from the Lottery staff has indicated that, to be successful in the future, bids need to pay more attention to community involvement. The workshop essentially consisted of idea generation for the people part of the funding application.

The output is now being incorporated into the Mountain Paths Project application on behalf of both the Cairngorms and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Parks. It details how the partners will engage with the public and involve them in a wide range of opportunities from training and volunteering to events, walking festivals and schools projects. I list the key proposals below:-

  1. Proposal: To increase the scope and range of activities currently undertaken within local schools to target them more specifically at the Mountain Paths Project. To widen the number of children who participate in these activities to well beyond the National Park boundaries.
  2. To increase the level of path specific engagement with formal education groups through fieldwork, an increased and improved media project, steering of groups to consider paths as part of the John Muir Award and the production of an education pack.
  3. Proposal: To significantly increase the scope and role of the volunteer workforce in the National Parks. This will include broadening the Adopt-a-path scheme to cover more paths and attract volunteers from a wider geographical area, targeting existing schemes such as the Junior Rangers to relate directly to the Mountain Paths Project and creating new groups of practical conservation volunteers from the major centres of population with volunteer co-ordination and experienced supervisors to work across the Parks. Volunteers will be recruited from a wide area around and within the National Parks and training in a variety of techniques will be given.
  4. Proposal: To increase the involvement with the walking and other festivals within the National Parks and to run specific activities relating to the Mountain Paths Project. This could include guided walks and volunteer work parties. To develop linkages between the existing walking and cycling festivals by collective marketing and training. This would be carried out by a designated project / community development officer.
  5. Proposal: To run occasional ranger-led walks as part of the health walks programme to introduce the Mountain Paths Project and to encourage participants to become involved through training or volunteering.
  6. To expand the existing health walks within the parks by providing training for walk leaders to lead more advanced walks and to employ mountain guides for mountain walks.
  7. Proposal: To continue to work with the organisers of mass participation events and to include key messages about the Mountain Paths Project and personal giving in participant's information. Leaflets about the Mountain Paths Project will be included in each participants information pack. Organisers will be encouraged to include an option of personal giving into the event fee so that revenue can be directly generated from participants. This will contribute directly towards the long-term sustainability of Mountain Paths.
  8. Proposal: To further develop the existing ranger-led events and activities to include mountain paths, mountain access and key messages that relate to the project in order to provide increased public engagement for the Project. To review the promotion of these events to ensure as wide an audience as possible attends the events.
  9. Proposal: Working with communities to consider interpretive structures at key trailhead locations in the National Parks to explain the purpose of the Mountain Paths Project and to encourage direct action by users.
  10. Proposal: To explored innovative uses of technology and produce a series of podcasts that interpret the mountain paths and landscape.
  11. To develop Geocache trails around the National Parks that provide key messages about the project and allow participants to collect points and be awarded special project coins.
  12. To develop Project web pages within an existing website and to develop pages to celebrate the upland paths.
  13. To install a network of people counters to monitor path usage.

I'm sure that many of you will agree with me. We do need to get more people involved if we are going to get continued funding for path repair and maintenance and we do need to avoid becoming elitist. However, the prospect of mass participation events on sensitive paths in sensitive areas fills me with dread - encouraging more people into the high mountains is a very two-edged sword!

Later, the workshop did turn to path prioritisation but the energy was gone and little concrete was achieved. On the positive front, pleas from local landowners for their paths to be prioritised for repair revealed an avalanche of undoubtedly very deserving causes. I left feeling that with the likely funds to be raised, provided that the eventual prioritisation was done properly, there wasn't going to be enough money for "over-zealous" repairs as there more than enough cases of real need.

Dave Windle

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