PARK WATCH June 2018 |

Planning rules for tourism and other visitor infrastructure in public land are largely absent, and guidelines are increasingly ignored where they do exist, reports Phil Ingamells.

The pressure for increased visitor access to public land is growing at a great rate, but uncertainty seems to be the only ‘rule’. A whole range of proposals, from mountain bike trails to spa hotels, are being pushed into our national parks. And because there are no clear regulations, each proposal faces its own battleground.

What’s not working?

  1. Mountain bike riding is a fast-growing activity. It’s a great for the health of young people, and can be a boon to some struggling rural towns. But there are no clear rules on where they should go. It would seem to be an ideal activity for lower conservationvalue public land (including pine forests), because tracks erode and weed invasion grows, and conflicts with walkers make dual purpose tracks unworkable.Some very odd processes have emerged in the planning vacuum, such as Yarra Ranges Shire Council’s plans for mountain bike trails in Yarra Ranges National Park. The Shire mapped out a trail, and now Parks Victoria is left struggling to reduce its potential impact while the park’s management plan is left on the shelf.More worrying is the increased proliferation of illegal mountain bike, trail bike and even 4WD tracks in parks, many of which become ‘formalised’ because that’s easier than fighting their creation.
  2. Parks Victoria has produced the ‘final’ plan for the Falls to Hotham Track, the third of four proposed ‘icon walks’ Tourism Victoria proposed some time ago. When Victoria’s original ‘Nature Based Tourism’ strategy first mooted the walks, it was intended to consult widely with conservation groups and walking organisations before any final plan for new tracks emerged. That process never happened, leaving the poorly conceived (and very expensive) Falls to Hotham track struggling to get community approval.
  3. More outrageous is the scheme by a group of ‘locals’, some of whom are private developers, to excise land from Mount Buffalo National Park and build spa hotels, pubs, shops and other highly intrusive infrastructure in one of Victoria’s oldest and most loved national parks. It’s now being ‘assessed’ by a consultant appointed by the Alpine Shire Council.

Why is this happening?

As far as we can see, the only people employed to actually implement nature-based infrastructure are employed by Parks Victoria, and they can only develop infrastructure on land Parks Victoria manages. That leaves our vast public land estate beyond the park system without a recreation planning process.

And it means the current plan to introduce ‘eco sleeper pods’ for ‘comfort in nature’ seekers can only place them inside national parks, even though there are many good options for them on other public land adjacent to parks.

We need a really solid planning process, well advised by ecologists, land managers, recreation planners, social scientists and tourism operators; a process that can produce strong and lasting guidelines and regulations across public land. Without such a planning process, there is no certainty for developers, and no certainty for nature.

A wise society would fix that situation.


Did you like reading this article? Want to be kept up to date about nature issues in Victoria? Subscribe to our email updates.

You can also receive our print magazine Park Watch four times a year by becoming a member. Find out more here.