The route starts at Sliabh Liag, passes through DLDC’s catchment area including Ardara, Glenties and via the Bluestack Way to Donegal Town before crossing into Northern Ireland passing through Killeter in Co. Tyrone, and up to Bolaght Mountain. Here it picks up the northern route of the Ulster Way passing the Sperrin Mountains, the Giant’s Causeway and Antrim Coast, before traversing the Glens of Antrim to its eastern terminus on the island of Ireland in Larne.
The week long activities kicked off at Kelly’s Bridge, the old stone bridge on the old Castlederg road, linking County Donegal with County Tyrone, which is a key way point on the IAT Ulster Ireland trail.
“This location on the trail is symbolic for this gathering,” she said. “It is the point is where County Donegal meets County Tyrone and where the Republic Of Ireland meets Northern Ireland and symbolises, in many ways, the mission of the International Appalachian Trail to connect people and places.
“We hope that over the coming days we can build upon the spirit of the IAT and develop new relationships and friendships with the wider International Appalachian Trail community.
“Although there is a lot of hard work to be done over the coming days, we hope that all delegates enjoy their stay here and, in particular, the wonderful walking experiences we have on offer.
“In 2013, with the launch of the Ireland section of the International Appalachian Trail at the Ulster American Folk Park, we started on a journey .This week marks an important progression for us all in this journey along the International Appalachian Trail.”
Chaiperson of the IAT Ireland, Magne Haugseng, pointed out the success of the trail in parts of North America and Europe and expressed his hope that the local route could tap into that tourism potential.
“The IAT has the potential to help boost the local economy all along the trail,” he said. “We have seen similar walking trails elsewhere make a great difference to the economy in villages in Scotland, Spain and in America.
“Local B&B’s have already had positive feedback from visitors. With scenery such as ours, and the friendliness of the locals, we simply cannot lose.
“Walking also offers significant health benefits and is a great way of reducing heart disease, blood pressure and stress.”
Paul Wylezol, President of IAT Ireland, added that the strong links between this Island and America could be fortified by the trail.
“Returning to this beautiful Emerald Island is a homecoming of sorts for the IAT, as many of our families and friends in North America are of Irish descent.
But we also consider the landscape itself a close and familiar relative, as this spectacular island in the North Atlantic was once a part of ancient North America, before the Iapetus Ocean closed from tectonic forces forming the super-continent Pangea and the Appalachian/Caledonian Mountains.
“Upon the opening of the Atlantic Ocean, the northern half of the island was separated and attached to Western Europe in exchange for the eastern portions of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
“We are now happy to return to this beautiful island to help reunite our natural and cultural heritage under the banner of the International Appalachian Trail.”
Delegates toured Donegal on Tuesday including a walk at Slieve League and a boat trip under the cliffs through the stunning Glengesh Pass.
Later in the week Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Sperrins and Killeter Walking Festival will provide the perfect opportunity for local walking enthusiasts to reconnect with our lost Appalachian heritage when it hosts two new walks in recognition of that connection.
The 15km ‘Origins of the Ulster Appalachian Way’ walk takes place on Saturday 24th September 2016 with a guided hike through the Sperrin’s and tell the ancient story of the trail while on Sunday 25th, the more moderate 8km ‘Development of the Ulster Appalachian Trail’ will leave Killeter.
For more information and to register for a place on any of the walks go to www.sperrinskilleterwalking.com