Feedback and support needed to turn plans into reality

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Island mountain bike enthusiasts in future could be enjoying new trails in the Aline Community Forest.

The Hebridean Cycle Club recently decided to accept an offer from the woodland group to use its grounds to develop a mountain bike trail centre.

The Aline Woodland straddles the A859 approximately 20 miles south of Stornoway with an area of approximately 636ha.

The area includes the magnificent viewpoint of Griamacleit and a stretch of the coastline at Port Griogaspull on Loch Seaforth. There is also an existing play park, boardwalk and car park.

Chair of the Hebridean Cycle Club Gavin Earons explained the benefits of the project: “I think the project fits in perfectly with the Aline Community Woodland vision of encouraging more people to enjoy the fantastic natural amenities of the area.

“The forest is unique on the island as it offers the opportunity of creating flowing singletrack trails from the highpoint, with its stunning views over Loch Seaforth to Ben More and Toddun, down through the forest passing by rivers and lochs to the beautiful Loch Seaforth shoreline.

“The location is ideal as it is on the main island road and readily accessible to locals and tourists alike and it sits on the Hebridean Way which makes it a great stopping off point for cyclists travelling through the islands.

“The construction phase and ongoing maintenance requirements should offer some employment opportunities – especially if the aspiration to build a café and bike shop comes to fruition.”

At the moment Aline Community Forest is used by Harris Gun Club, which has built a superb shooting range facility in one corner of the forest, the Scaladale Centre uses Loch na h-Aibhne Ruaidhe for kayaking and Stornoway Canoe Club uses the forest road for access to the Loch Seaforth tidal rapids and beyond.

The concept for the bike trails project is to build a mountain bike trail centre suitable for riders of all ages, skill levels and ambitions.

The centre would have green to black graded trails, a skills training loop and a pump track.

The skills area and graded trails would enable riders of all abilities to improve and develop as riders.

Ideally the project would also include support facilities such as a café, bike hire and bike shop.

There is also the hope to develop the facilities for other users, including walkers, families and horse riding and provide interpretation signage for visitors.

At this stage of the long-term phased project a plan has been put together and the team are just about ready to start designing the trails.

Mr Earons continued: “Once we have a trail plan, we can begin to assess the cost and seek out sources of grant funding. One guideline figure we have from a previous study suggests it could cost £30 per metre to build – so a 10k family trail round the forest perimeter could cost £300,000 pounds.

“We will be offering trails for more experienced cyclists too so that could easily double that figure.

“Obviously a cafe and bike shop would add significantly to that.”

The project has been registered with SportScotland and the hope is it will be included in its three to five-year funding plan.

Other sources of funding could be Lottery and local wind farm community funds, with smaller funding opportunities, also being investigated in the months to come.

Scottish Cycling has offered its support and is a good source of information on the latest funding opportunities.

The cycle group is also looking for public feedback on the proposals and has developed a questionnaire (www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/7NMT78R) on such a facility.

The club is also investigating charitable status to make best use of funding opportunities, particularly, in regards to the Aline Forest development.

The chairman concluded: “We expect the project to be broken up into phases to allow for funding to be raised from different sources over the coming years.

“However, we are ready to take advantage of any funding that might come available at short notice – so it is likely to be a couple of years before trail building can start but if things go well and funding can be found it could be sooner.

“Feedback so far is really positive which is very encouraging – we will need the continued support of the community to make this all happen.”