A new coast-to-coast trail across Scotland's central belt is on the drawing board. The proposal is to extend the existing John Muir Way from its home on the North Sea coast of East Lothian, westwards to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, and then on to the Clyde.
The new 120-mile John Muir Way from Dunbar to Helensburgh will incorporate a number of existing named paths including the current much shorter John Muir Way, the Forth & Clyde and Union Canal towpaths, the Antonine Wall and the Strathkelvin Railway Path. The route will link the finest scenery, wildlife, historic sites and attractions along the way, say supporters of the plan, who hope to encourage local people and visitors to explore the area's heritage. The path will be aimed at both walkers and cyclists.
The trail is named in honour of John Muir, the 19th Century conservationist who was born in Dunbar and went on to found America's National Park system - the world's first.
'2014 is the centenary of John Muir's death and the John Muir Way will be as much about celebrating the life of an internationally famous Scot - yet to be fully recognised and appreciated in his native land - as it will be about creating a valuable long distance route' says Keith Geddes, chair of Central Scotland Green Network (CSGN) and the brains behind the proposal.
'Muir's life and writings are even more relevant today than they were during his lifetime. If we are serious about mitigating climate change then we have to find ways of inspiring Scots to reconnect with nature and take individual responsibility for changing their lifestyle... Through an appreciation of Muir's work some Scots may change their behaviour.'
The route is being developed and mainly funded by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) in its lead partner role for the CSGN. The proposed route will become part of a network of Longer Distance Routes in the CSGN to encourage walking and cycling, as set out in the Scottish Government's Second National Planning Framework.
SNH is currently meeting with the nine local authorities through which the trail will pass to finalise route details, discuss implementation and funding, and to consider the future management and maintenance of the path. Work should commence on the ground during the current financial year and continue into next year, with a planned official opening during 2014 as part of events to celebrate John Muir's centenary.
So what benefits might the new long distance trail bring? Estimates should always be taken with a pinch of salt, but the numbers look impressive.
A recent study commissioned by SNH has estimated that the route will attract over 9000 coast-to-coast users in the first year alone, potentially generating £2.9m of direct expenditure and creating or safeguarding over 120 jobs. Combining day visitors with coast-to-coast users, it is estimated that in the first five years it will generate over £25m additional direct expenditure, £41.9m in total economic impact, and support and over 1000 additional jobs.