Hidden gem in west Belfast: Colin Glen Wood
Ambitious plans to turn park born out of landfill site into even bigger visitor attraction
It's the big Belfast tourist attraction you've never heard of - and it's right in the heart of the west of the city.
Yet Colin Glen is pulling in the crowds - last year it attracted more than 220,000 visitors from across the globe, including Thailand, Africa, USA and Canada.
Now with the glen celebrating its 25th anniversary since being reborn from an industrial waste dump, chief executive Colin O'Neill has revealed ambitious plans to transform it into a self-sufficient visitor attraction that will train up disenfranchised young people in outdoor pursuits.
His vision is to create a continuous green oasis running from the M1 motorway up into the Belfast Hills, a cross-community green haven spanning the divided communities of Suffolk, Lenadoon and Poleglass.
Colin Glen was once a game reserve used by landowners for sport, while the Colin River was used to power the linen industry.
Between the wars the banks of the river were scarred by the quarrying of clay to make bricks and the pits left became a landfill site.
But after Colin Glen Trust took over in 1989, the landfill site was capped, thousands of tonnes of debris was removed and native trees planted along the new paths.
In recent years that drive has accelerated, with a new Skytrek high ropes adventure facility, a teepee camping village, bubble ball arena, water sports site and laser combat zone, along with 3G pitches and a driving range at Old Dunmurry golf course.
Now the trust is keen to acquire a strip of land along the river behind the Suffolk estate in order to create a continuous green space from the golf course up into the Belfast Hills. That stretch was once home to a bleaching green.
Mr O'Neill says a new entrance for the forest park could be created at Suffolk, and two tunnels beneath the Stewartstown Road already link that green wedge to the forest park upstream.
"When we talk to community organisations from Suffolk they are saying that residents will not walk into the forest park because access is over an interface. This will bring the forest park to them," he said.
"I would see this as one of the few genuinely neutral attractions in the area. We have a football pitch down at the golf course and Suffolk football club have trained there from day one, and beside them you have St Paul's doing a hurling blitz and Ulster Rugby are using the site for tag rugby.
"We have launched plans to enhance the services including a much-needed new visitors' centre and a host of new attractions including interactive heritage exhibitions, treetop accommodation, mountain bike regional centre with pump track, treetop rollercoaster and more.
"We understand that funding is becoming increasingly difficult to source and maintain - however one thing remains constant. The development of Colin Glen will continue to create jobs, training, inward investment, world class facilities and a fantastic facility that the people of this area can be immensely proud of."
The heritage centre would reveal stories like that of Naoise O'Haughan, a highwayman in Co Antrim who roamed the Belfast Hills after he and many others were evicted. He hid in caves at the Hatchet Field on Black Mountain, before he was captured in 1720 and hanged at the Three Sisters near Carrickfergus Castle