£5m upgrade plan for Gosford Forest Park
Scheme will include the biggest play trail in Ireland
A Northern Ireland beauty spot is set to be transformed by a multi-million pound upgrade.
The plans will include Ireland's largest bespoke adventure play trail at Gosford Forest Park near Markethill, Co Armagh.
Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council wants to appoint a contractor to get the £5m project underway as soon as possible.
Gosford is one of Northern Ireland's best-known forest attractions, set in 240 hectares of woodland complete with Gosford Castle on-site.
The new attraction, which includes a £2.1m visitor centre, is being designed by Pete Laing, one of the most prestigious trail designers in the UK.
He will develop 16 kilometres of walking, cycling, horse riding and adventure play trails to complement its popular play park constructed three years ago.
Funding will be provided by the council with £480,000 secured through the Targeting Rural Poverty and Social Isolation programme.
Gareth Wilson, the Lord Mayor of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon, said: "We want to get a head start on this new venture which will perfectly supplement the development of the fantastic play park constructed three years ago, which sees families flocking to the forest park.
"We are hopeful that when this first phase gets under way, it will open up more opportunities for funding in the future, so we can realise the full potential that this wonderful attraction has to offer."
Forest Service chief executive Malcolm Beatty said: "Our forest parks are an outstanding and valuable natural resource. Anyone who has been to Gosford will understand why it is so popular with visitors from Co Armagh and beyond.
"This partnership with Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council allows us to develop the forest in a way that is open to all and yet sympathetic to the natural environment.
"It is an investment which will encourage even more people to explore, experience and enjoy Gosford."
An original plan drawn up by Outdoor Recreation NI to incorporate log cabins for visitors was dropped.
Last year saw 62,000 people visit Gosford with 7,574 campers and caravanners. It is anticipated the attraction will more than double this, generating close to £1m for the local economy annually with an additional 93,000 day trippers expected.
The council has reported that 38,000 sightseers who make the trip travel from outside the borough, but the local authority is confident this number can be increased to almost 60,000.
Gosford was designated the first conservation forest in Northern Ireland in 1986.