An 18th century waterway has been reopened for the first time in 50 years in response to public demand.
Strabane canal — a four-mile stretch of water — was originally built in 1796 to link the Tyrone town to the River Foyle and the Port of Londonderry as a way of boosting its industrial and commercial development.
The historic canal initially brought considerable prosperity to Strabane and to the neighbouring town of Lifford in Co Donegal during the first quarter of the 19th century and the two towns became flourishing markets for agricultural produce.
A number of warehouses, grain stores and wharves were built along the banks at Strabane, however the opening of a railway link in 1847 saw a rapid decline in the need for transporting goods by canal and, although ownership of the canal changed several times, its decline continued until 1962 when it was finally abandoned.
Hopes for the restoration of the canal began in June 2006 when the Strabane Lifford Development Commission was awarded a £1.3m for a project involving the the restoration of 2.4km of canal and returning two locks to working order.
This work also included the building of a footbridge, which when completed did not satisfy the council’s health and safety requirements and so the project stagnated.
Strabane District Council announced this week that the canal towpath is now temporarily open to walkers, runners and cyclists to avail of during the summer of 2012. A considerable amount of redevelopment has taken place to restore this part of the canal and it is envisaged that parking and toilet facilities will also be developed later this year.
The Foyle Canoe Trail will also be enhanced through the construction of three canoe ramps along the reopened stretch of canal. This work will be carried out as part of the Interreg IVA Programme for Rural Development and Priority Co-operation for a sustainable cross border region.
Starting from Park Road/Greenlaw Road junction, a scenic path will eventually allow walkers to reach Cloghcor.
The temporarily reopened canal towpath should prove a big draw for recreational visits.
Chairman of Strabane District Council Brian McMahon explained: “We are delighted this part of the canal is open.
“The council is now working towards the complete preservation of this historical asset.
“The full opening of the canal will create a wonderful outdoor amenity and build on and improve the district’s tourism package within the north west gateway.
“It will help develop this outdoor amenity to its full potential.
“Strabane District Council has decided to open the towpath initially for the summer season in response to the increasing public demand for access.
“This restoration project is still not complete, but we hope that by opening an aspect of it, local people will be able to witness the improvements to the site as this important outdoor amenity develops.”