17 September 2021 No Comments by The Northern Standard


The visit by local Government Minister Heather Humphreys to Rossmore Forest Park in Monaghan this week brought welcome and timely focus to the quite extraordinary growth in popularity of the amenity during the Covid-19 pandemic. It also raised important questions about the direction the future development of the park should take and what the best means is to tap much of its still largely unrealised potential from both the tourism and educational points of view.

These are questions which merit debate and discussion not merely at the level of Monaghan Co Council and the Monaghan Municipal District, the public authorities who have taken on a guiding role in the development of Rossmore in recent years since the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the forestry authority Coillte, but among the public from across a wide area who have made this wonderful and diverse natural resource the second most visited of Coillte’s public amenities in the country in the past year.

For a long time, Rossmore was something of a hidden gem in the North Monaghan area, popular among a large number of local people but not really a magnet for visitors from a wider area. And the lustre of the gem had grown somewhat tarnished with no consistent or co-ordinated plan for its upkeep and improvement as a public amenity. The role undertaken by the local authority in recent years in concert with Coillte saw some renewed scintillation of the jewel with a master plan put in place and significant levels of funding accessed to begin to implement it. And the development drive at Rossmore proved prescient – come the pandemic and accompanying lockdowns, an increasing number of people from across a wider and wider area began to utilise the park for recreational and wellbeing needs until it became something of a phenomenon as an outdoor attraction.

The Coillte report officially launched by Minister Humphreys on Friday illustrated the extent of Rossmore’s enhanced appeal – of all the public amenities under the care and control of the forestry body, only the Dublin Mountains has drawn more people to its precincts in recent times.

This level of popularity is undoubtedly here to stay and brings with it some particular development needs which are due to be addressed in part by the funding announced by the Minister to bring about a badly needed upgrade of the toilet facilities in the park, which are a blight on its environment and an intermittent magnet for vandalism.

There is also some attention being given by the local authority to identifying additional car-parking capacity at the park which will not objectionably intrude on its natural amenity – another necessity as a less than satisfactory and hazardous situation is often created on the roadways around the park at times of peak public attendance.

Accommodating increased public usage of Rossmore while ensuring its wilderness appeal is preserved is a delicate balancing act but one which the local authority is approaching with commendable deliberation and consultation. While there were some community fears when the master plan began to be implemented that damage could be wrought to the essence of the place by introducing a series of public facilities, the way in which the children’s play park, giant’s trail and other enhancements have so far been implemented has done much to allay this concern.

There has been a commendable level of stakeholder engagement in the development process to date. But this is perhaps an opportune time to broaden the reach of that engagement, and broaden the topics for it to consider. Minister Humphreys, a long-time proponent of the park’s development, was not guilty of understatement when she declared on Friday that “the sky’s the limit” for how this rich amenity can be utilised in the future.

And we are sure the Minister was not merely thinking about further enhancement measures along the walking and cycling trails and better parking and rest amenities for the visitors. There will come a point when these are improved to the maximum extent, and it would be a missed opportunity if that was what the development plans currently in train were only and all about. Perhaps the greatest potential possessed by Rossmore Park is that of an educational resource.

Many people who reengaged with the outdoors during the pandemic lockdowns will also have reawakened an interest in learning more about the natural world, stirring a curiosity that had perhaps lain dormant since childhood. And in our increasingly climate action-conscious world, there are imperatives to learning about the workings of eco-systems and biodiversity, and the subtle turns and tides of the season, that go beyond intellectual curiosity and touch important areas of individual and collective social responsibility.

Monaghan Tidy Towns and other local groups have already explored this facet of Rossmore’s riches with some commendable educational projects and events. But this is only scratching the surface of a way of utilising the park to extract immense value while ensuring that its natural integrity is not compromised.

The development of some form of visitor or interpretation centre in the park’s public area would seem inevitable. Could such an undertaking be turned into a Rossmore Park College of Natural Education? Not some sort of major education campus with classrooms and tutors, but a base for learning all that the park has to teach us about flora and fauna, biodiversity, protecting and enhancing the environment for pollinators, ornithology, herbs and natural medicine, angling and marine life and a wealth of other subjects linked to the natural world and our place in it.

The actual classroom would be the park itself and the centre merely the preparation and gathering point for what could be a wide range of education courses that would also offer a very distinctive tourism branding for Rossmore that would distinguish it from the other outdoor public amenities in the country. We are sure that there would be widespread public enthusiasm for such a project, as well as copious local expertise that could be tapped into when courses were being devised and tutors sought.

The potential of Rossmore Park to make us better educated and more appreciative and protective of its exceptional share of the bounty of the natural world should surely be considered seriously when future phases of its development are being debated and determined.

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