Colin Glen Forest Park in West Belfast has lifted a prestigious all Ireland trophy at the inaugural awards ceremony in the RDS last week. Up against some of Irelands most illustrious woodlands in Ireland, Colin Glen emerged victorious in the Community Woodland category of the RDS Irish Forestry Awards.
Colin Glen Forest Park has been on a journey from refuse to recreation since its inception in 1989. As a reclaimed landfill site in West Belfast, the Colin Glen area transformed with the addition of pathways, substantial tree planting, and significant cleanups in the late 80’s / early 90’s. More recently the park has developed into a real community asset. Faced with uncertainty due to decreasing financial support for the natural environment from local government, Colin Glen Trust has successfully introduced a number of sustainable projects to generate income, create local employment and boost the number of visitors, volunteers and leisure opportunities in the area, while ensuring the survival of the valuable woodland asset.
The Community Woodland Award is designed to encourage and reward projects involving community woodlands and forests which have been established and managed in a way which is sustainable and beneficial to the landscape, the local people, biodiversity and the economy. Entries were invited from woodland owners or managers from the public and voluntary sectors throughout Ireland. As a first time entrant in the RDS Spring Forestry Awards, Colin Glen Forest Park was up against other organisations who use trees, woods and forests to improve the places where people live, bring benefits to people e.g. health and well-being, recreation, education and training and who strengthen communities e.g. diversity and inclusion, volunteering and active participation and following a rigorous inspection visit by the judges it was decided that the work which has been undertaken by the Trust should be recognised.
Over the past year Colin Glen Forest Park has welcomed over 265000 visitors onto its site and has continued to develop a top quality outdoor pursuits centre in the urban park which attracts thousands of families and teenagers each year to undertake adrenaline based activities, whilst others with younger families have found favour with the introduction of Ireland’s only official Gruffalo & Stick Man Activity trails. Now offering an annual programme of environmental education, youth work and leisure & sporting events the park is attracting people from all over the world as Paul Bennett – Park Warden explains “The footfall has increased dramatically over the last few years. As well as the many regular local users, we are welcoming families from all over the country and from foreign climes. We have had visitors from all over Europe, USA, Canada, and as far away as Asia! It’s great to see so many smiley young & old faces enjoy our woodland.”
This in turn has helped the forest park grow in popularity and has secured a bright future for the Glen as it continues to deliver a unique, tranquil yet fun and engaging space for many visitors throughout the year. Colin Glen is working towards becoming one of the first sustainable forest parks in Northern Ireland through a mixture of environmental education, outdoor recreation and community sport & leisure programmes, to ultimately ensure the protection of this natural environment in its urban setting.
With new & unique capital projects nearing fruition including Ireland’s first ever Alpine Coaster, Super Zip Line’s, Ireland’s first interactive Golf Driving Range and Mountain Bike trails, the park’s master plan is to fully cement itself as a top leisure & tourism attraction in the country. On receipt of the award, Chief Executive Colin O’Neill expressed his delighted to be recognised for the hard work undertaken by staff and volunteers over the last 30 years;
“This is a huge honour for the Trust to receive the inaugural All Ireland Community Woodland award. Colin Glen Forest Park is a real gem for the people of West Belfast and beyond and we are doing everything we can to ensure that it survives. This award is recognition for the hard work of everyone connected to Colin Glen Trust. It is an exciting time for the Trust and having secured capital investment we should soon see some new features that are sure to bring even more people into this award winning forest park”.