The Advisory Group met on 18th March with the new convenor Kevin Bolwell in the chair. Once again we had a full agenda.
We first looked at how things are going with fire recovery works from last summer’s fire in the northern part of the Park.
McKenzie Falls Precinct
There are currently no plans to re-open the kiosk, but the option for someone to apply to do so will remain open. In the meantime, a mobile coffeecart has permission to serve coffee there when it is busy. The cottage will not be rebuilt. The toilets will be repaired, where they are currently. Power and telephone will be restored. (Currently there is no mobile reception so a fixed line will be needed- how best to do this is still to be decided). The question of parking is a real problem and we looked at some of the options. The current parking areas are not coping with demand at busy times, but how much of the park do we turn into carpark? A problem not confined to this site. The fire has opened up new vistas of the river above the falls and new open space is planned along the river and where the former house was. But in busy times should people be discouraged from picnicking here to reduce the pressure on carpark spaces?
Cottages at Zumsteins
A detailed consultants’ report on what best to do with the cottages has been received. Their recommendation is to work to repair and restore the central cottage (which was not burnt), by reroofing it, repairing and repainting the timbers, making the floor level. The other two cottages “Orange cottage” and “Green Cottage” were badly damaged. There is not enough insurance money to fully repair these and the consultants gave several options for both. Most likely a separate new protective roof over each of them, reducing the walls to a safe level of 1 metre and repairing them with new pise. They could then be easily accessible to the public and interpretive signs explaining about the building methods etc. We were generally in agreement and our comments were noted and there will also be discussions with the Laharum community.
The campground was badly affected by the fire and also by finding asbestos in the soil, which has now been removed. The Parks team are taking the opportunity to rethink the layout. There will be better separation of group camps from individual and family campers and better provision will be made for caravans and campervans. Also the carpark for the Ngamadjidj cultural site will be moved to make a longer walk in, thus giving more of a sense of arrival. The plan looks excellent. The site urgently needs more revegetation work (again), and is sorely missed. We had quite a discussion as to alternative sites in the northern end of the park, on both park and private property. A formal campsite on Coppermine track is a possibility as it is already very popular with groups despite the lack of facilities. This led us into a discussion of the issue of campfees and the need now to prebook sites. Pre-booking will definitely help, but the sudden introduction of high fees is creating problems.
The Grampians Peaks trail
Work is almost complete on improving the track through the Grand Canyon area. The hiker camp near Mt Rosea that we inspected in November is now finished and the first stage of the walk will be officially opened shortly. The camps will be given indigenous names and this first one will be Bugiga, which is the name for Mt Rosea as recorded in the diaries of George Robinson. The next camp site will be near the start of Redman Rd. The Advisory Group is still very concerned at the funding model for the trail. We have had no response to the letter we sent to the previous minister so we resolved to write again, and also to Parks Victoria CEO.
Environment and Heritage
The quoll at the brushtailed rockwallaby release site is still being recorded on remote cameras but attempts to catch it or even to get samples of its DNA have not yet been successful. Unfortunately the young BTRW seen out of the pouch in spring has not been seen lately and is feared to be dead. We don’t know yet whether these two items are connected. There is overall a decline in the population of small mammals. Is the drying climate the cause? Some of the heritage news is also depressing. There has been an increase in graffiti at some sites, and an education strategy is needed. I also asked Dave about the proliferation of rock cairns along the Balconies track. When there were just a few it seemed a fairly harmless activity, but on my last visit there were just so many and people going further and further off the track to erect them. Dave told me that action had already been taken to dismantle them and that one of the tour operators had received a warning.
Finally we moved towards setting up some project working groups so that some of these important areas can get more focussed attention. Our next meeting is in June.