A Co Tyrone cycling group has labelled comments made by councillors in relation to damage at Knockmany Hill near Augher as “ignorant and inflammatory”.
Speaking at a meeting of Mid Ulster District Council’s environment committee, Councillor Sharon McAleer claimed 40 cyclists, not local to the area, “dug up” ground at Queen Annya’s burial site at the summit of Knockmany Hill, destroying the wildlife and fauna as they went.
The comments were supported by Councillor Frances Burton who said it is “a disgrace and ridiculous that this happened”.
However, speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service a spokesperson for a local MTB club said these claims misrepresent the facts.
“Councillor Sharon McAleer has made an attempt to disparage mountain bikers with a misrepresentation of the facts,” claimed the spokesperson.
“In our view, the ignorant and inflammatory remarks made by the councillors are little more than a ham-fisted publicity stunt which victimise bikers, and only serve to exacerbate the situation rather than capitalise on what is an overwhelmingly positive story.
“Her main cause for concern was the “ransacking” of the Neolithic burial site which sits on top of the hill at Knockmany Forest. The burial site in question is Queen Baine’s tomb, which is protected by a concrete chamber erected in 1959.
“After completion, the structure was covered in earth, leaving only a glass viewing pyramid protruding from the top. Stone steps were also installed so that people could ascend to the top of the mound, and look down into the tomb via the viewing pyramid.
“The subterranean concrete structure is a veritable fortress which ensures that damage to the burial site is nigh on impossible and to suggest otherwise is absurd.”
The spokesperson said local mountain bikers have been riding in Knockmany for decades and “regularly take extra steps to ensure the preservation of the hill and protection of its environment by collecting litter”.
They also disputed the Councillor’s claims concerning the destruction of wildlife and fauna at Knockmany.
“I can advise that the environmental impact to the trails at Knockmany is so little that once spring kicks in, if the vegetation is not regularly maintained, nature will reclaim the trails literally within a matter of weeks,” said the spokesperson.
“The fact of the matter is that anyone conducting themselves in an appropriate manner has as much right to use the park as anyone else, and that includes bikers.
“There is a great diversity of terrain at Knockmany and due to lockdown restrictions, the park has seen an explosion of many different types of recreational traffic.
“As a result, the park and car park is very busy and I think it was inevitable that there was going to be friction somewhere along the line.
“Unfortunately, a very negative spin is being put on the situation by certain people, whilst the overwhelmingly positive aspects are being completely disregarded.”
The spokesperson praised Mid Ulster District Council’s running of the park and called for cyclists to take the increased number of visitors into consideration when planning a trip to Knockmany.
“The unprecedented popularity of the park is a testament to the excellent work that Mid Ulster District Council has done to develop it.” said the spokesperson.
“To conclude, bikers have been riding at Knockmany for decades and have as much right to be there as anyone else.
“Despite this, we would ask bikers to take extra consideration if planning a journey to the park, as it is generally extremely busy at present.”