Seven miles of traffic-free tranquillity can be enjoyed by thousands of walkers and cyclists following the completion of the much anticipated Comber Greenway.
The Comber Greenway is a green corridor from Dee Street in the heart of east Belfast to Comber, and runs along the former Belfast to Comber railway line.
Local charity Sustrans Northern Ireland, which is behind the project, said the new route would provide an ideal environment for walking and cycling, and a direct route for commuters cycling between Comber, through Dundonald to east Belfast and the city centre.
Sustrans director for Northern Ireland Steven Patterson said: “The Comber Greenway is already phenomenally popular with local people and the completion of the final stretch through the countryside to Comber adds to the feeling of rural escape from urban bustle.
“The completed Greenway gives the 150,000 people living in its vicinity an attractive and safer route for walking and cycling than the busy nearby road.
“It is a remarkable community walking and cycling route that will improve people's health and environment and I would like to commend the many people who have worked together to build and maintain the Greenway.”
Mr Patterson said the charity planned to continue its work with communities “to increase usage and make the Greenway even more useful by building links to facilities such as schools, shops and workplaces”.
Councillor Simon Hamilton said the completion of the Greenway was a “great boost for tourism and transport in our area”.
“To have a traffic free cycle and footpath all the way from the centre of Belfast to Comber is a wonderful asset,” Councillor Hamilton said.
“Even in its early incomplete stages it was a great success beyond everyone's expectations. I am certain that the Greenway will draw many cyclists to Ards and help enhance our economy.”
During the Greenway's construction special care was taken of conservation sites such as the River Enler and areas of woodland and wetland. The Northern Ireland Environment Agency also helped advise on conservation for protected species living along the Greenway.
Over the last two years Sustrans community liaison co-ordinators have been working with people along the Greenway and together they have planted over 1,000 native trees.
The Comber Greenway's environmental credentials have also extended into large-scale re-cycling - two bridges that form part of the route were originally a surplus temporary foot bridge that had spanned the River Bann in Portadown. Road Service transported and installed the bridges at the Ballystockart River and a farm lane just outside Comber. A third bridge crosses the River Enler near to Millmount Road, Dundonald.
The Greenway also links to the Strangford Lough Cycle Trail, an 82 mile circuit of Strangford Lough on quiet country roads due to be completed later this month.
The community opening of the Greenway will take place this Saturday with a wide range of events taking place including circus acts and bicycle obstacle courses.
The event begins at 9.30am at Walkway Community Centre Finvoy Street, Holywood Arches.
The project is supported by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development through the EU Programme for Building Sustainable Prosperity administered via Sustrans.