Not-so-healthy parks for wealthy people
Parks Victoria, in liaison with Regional Development Victoria, is planning a multi-million dollar revamp of the walking tracks between the Falls Creek and Mount Hotham alpine resorts, with the aim of discouraging use by the current self-sufficient bushwalkers, who they say are low spenders.
They are aiming at the 'high-yield' luxury market, with the provision of privately built and serviced lodges along the track.
At a time when park management is seriously underfunded, and many parks have serious weed and pest management problems, the promise that the revamped walk will exhibit 'exemplary environmental management' rings a little hollow.
Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing
The full 'Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing' is a five day walk, with four overnight stops generally offering either a tent on the ground (the cheapest option), a tent on a raised platform (the middle option) or 'alpine lodging' - luxury huts serviced with bedding and food by a commercial provider.
Any future casual camping must take place at least 100 metres from the bookable (and expensive) campsites - if any feasible alternative sites are available.
Most controversial is the provision of a series of luxury huts in three sites, including seven near the top of Diamantina Spur, a steep climb towards the summit of Victoria's largest free-standing mountain, Mt Feathertop. This would introduce privately-operated built accommodation on the so far untouched eastern side of Feathertop. The luxury cabins would have to be serviced regularly by helicopter.
There are several quite flawed aspects to this proposal:
- Parks Victoria's much vaunted 'Healthy Parks Healthy People' program is meant to be about encouraging the broad community, especially people who can most benefit from access to our natural areas, to spend time in our national parks. This includes young people from disadvantaged areas, Indigenous communities, and especially people suffering from depression. The long-term economic benefits to the state if all sections of the community have access to nature is considered vast, but there is no program aimed at making that happen.
- There are many conflicting claims in the report including that the lodges will not be visible from elsewhere in the park, yet there will be spectacular views from them.
- There has been no environmental impact statement prepared, nor a robust business plan.
- While various options for the walk have been examined, there has been no comparison with other good options for regional ecotourism. A far better project would be to promote the hundreds of vacant beds at Falls Creek and Mount Hotham alpine resorts during summer, and the great range of day walks that can be taken from those venues.
Policy tunnel vision
It appears investment in national parks is suffering from policy tunnel vision focusing on poorly conceived overnight tracks, trails, and luxury huts aimed at untested high-end tourism markets to the detriment and exclusion of everyday Victorian bushwalkers.
Government agencies seem intent on implementing old, flawed Coalition policies by stealth, even though the ALP has a clear policy stance against these strategies. In the meantime, core funding for park management remains seriously underfunded.
The full draft proposal for the walk is available at from the Parks Victoria website.
Submissions to Parks Victoria in response to the proposals are due by Friday 27 January 2017. Send your response to FHAC@parks.vic.gov.au.