An Inverness conservationist has welcomed plans by Highland Council to invest £523,000 to replace an ageing boardwalk at a popular local beauty spot.
Council planners propose to tear down the existing 30-year-old boardwalk at Merkinch Local Nature Reserve (MLNR) to make way for a robust new walkway.
The improved trail will form part of a new active travel route from the South Kessock area to the city centre.
Plans for the £523, 800 project are at an early stage, with a public consultation due to take place in the coming weeks before a formal planning application is lodged with the local authority.
“It’s worth every penny”
Keepers of the reserve were forced to temporarily close the wooden structure in August after it fell into a state of disrepair.
The group dismantled the access ramp at the site before conducting a series of emergency repairs on the boardwalk, securing its interim future.
However, officials propose the remaining walkway may have to be permanently closed over the course of the next year as its condition deteriorates.
Caroline Snow, project manager at the reserve, said the £500,000 investment to revitalise the area is “worth every penny.”
She said: “The boardwalk is about 30-years-old so it’s coming to the end of its life. It’s still safe and secure; we still carry out risk assessments every four weeks to check.
“The boardwalk is really important. When there was talk of it being closed, people were really upset and that’s understandable.
“I think it’s just a really beautiful spot for people who are out walking their dogs; out on family walks and for the groups that use the reserve for recreational use.”
She added: “The new boardwalk should last for a good 100 years or more whereas the existing wooden boardwalk’s life is considerably shorter.
“It may be perceived as being expensive but I think in the grand scheme of things it’s worth every penny.
“Hopefully this time next year we will see the works well underway if not finished.”
It’s out with the old and in with the new
Developers propose to replace the existing boardwalk at MLNR, adjacent to the Far North railway line, after it fell into a state of repair.
Upgrades to the adjacent path will also be completed to form a wider and fully accessible route between the Carnac Crescent entrance to the reserve and the main sea wall path, looking out over the Beauly Firth.
The new and improved walkway will form half of the new active travel route connecting the Highlands only local nature reserve at South Kessock, the eighth most deprived community in Scotland, with Merkinch and the city beyond.
Ground works on the project are expected to commence in the new year ahead of completion by June 2023.
The project coincides with works, due to get underway this summer by Scottish Canals, to improve the neighbouring railway crossing and canal footpath.
Developers will host a public consultation in the area later this month to garner support for the project ahead of submitting an application for full planning approval.
A council spokeswoman said: “The project is currently at detailed design stage and the council is aiming to carry out a public consultations towards the end of June following which the council will require to submit a full planning application, where the public will again have a chance to comment.
“We then require formal construction stage approval from Sustrans before the project can be tendered later in the year.
“It is hoped that the works will proceed on site by the end January 2022.”
Funding secured for the project
Around 70% of the £523, 853 budget required for the project has already been secured from Sustrans as part of their Places for Everyone programme.
Additional funding in the form of a £22,500 grant from the Inverness Common Good Fund has also been secured for the project.
Developers have now applied for £12,156 in financial support from the Highland Coastal Communities Fund.
A Sustrans Scotland spokesman said: “We are very pleased to be supporting the replacement of the Merkinch Local Nature Reserve boardwalk though our Places for Everyone programme.
“Sustrans is committed to giving everyone in Scotland the opportunities to walk, wheel and cycle for more of their journeys.
“Following completion of the design phase, and supported by funding from Transport Scotland, our Places for Everyone programme will seek to offer up to 70% of the confirmed construction costs of the project.
“We look forward to continuing our work with everyone involved to improve the route through Merkinch Local Nature Reserve, giving more people from the area and further afield the chance to explore this beautiful area actively and sustainably.”
Preserving the reserve for generations
The development supports the ongoing work by keepers of the reserve, striving to expand the site on the edge of the city.
Staff took delivery of 300 native trees from conservation charity the Woodland Trust in January, for plantation across the reserve.
A selection of birch and hazel trees will be planted in the coming years as well as hawthorn and black thorn.
The conservationist added: “It’s really nice to have something to look forward to at the moment. I think it will give everyone a lift and something exciting to come and see.
“As well as the practical elements – getting people from A to B – I just think it will be a rather fabulous new feature for the area.”