Advisory Group Report (June 21)

Not surprisingly much of the meeting was taken up with the rock climbing controversy, also that this controversy has brought forward the long awaited review of the management plan which this group has been requesting for some years already (the previous one was published in 2003).

Traditional rock climbing was mentioned in the previous management plan. At that time, they were few in numbers and came with clubs or groups. But today there are something like 45,000 rock climbers coming here, of whom only 5,000 belong to a club.

In the worthy aim to help tourism recover after the 2006 fires, changes were made to Summerday Valley to encourage climbing there. Most climbing clubs are respectfully asking for better information so they can do the right things and Park staff are working on the complex task of getting information on to various apps.

Several of our group asked for a new climbing policy, collaboration, clear understanding as to who makes the decisions. They recognise that there are areas that will remain out of bounds.

Rhonda informed us that PV was working on a temporary plan to re-open parts of the valley, and the PV website now says:

Tour operators that offer rock climbing and abseiling at Summerday Valley in the Grampians National Park have been issued a variation to their existing licences for three months by Parks Victoria.

This decision allows existing Licensed Tour Operators who currently offer climbing in Summerday Valley to work with Traditional Owners to understand and protect Aboriginal cultural heritage unique to the Grampians.

The agreement will allow Parks Victoria, Traditional Owner groups and key stakeholders additional time to work together to ensure the ongoing review of the national park’s management plan is thorough and considered.

The licence provides strictly conditional authorisation for the tour operators to continue undertaking their activities in three designated areas – Barc Cliff, Back Wall and a section of Wall of Fools – within Summerday Valley until 30 September 2019. Additional three-month extensions could be offered if strict conditions are adhered to.

Conditions will ensure that harm to natural and cultural areas in Summerday Valley, which is in a designated Special Protection Area, is minimised.

Conditions include: a limit on operating locations; compulsory completion of an Aboriginal cultural heritage induction program; ongoing education for operators and their tour groups; identification for tour guides and their customers; use of a booking system to manage and monitor access; and reporting of visitor data to help with planning and review.

Tour operators found in breach of the conditions will have their licences suspended or cancelled. Any breaches will put access to Summerday Valley for all operators at risk. Anyone causing harm to natural and cultural values will also face financial penalties and referral to other authorities for possible further action…….. In partnership with Traditional Owner groups, Parks Victoria is preparing a new management plan for the Grampians landscape, an area that covers the Grampians National Park and adjacent parks and reserves. People can register their interest to be part of the process at engage.vic.gov.au/grampians-management-plan

Over Easter park staff did a compliance check at several sites. They spoke with 703 visitors, and 67 offences were detected. (road behaviour, illegal campsites, as well as some climbing offences).

Other topics we discussed were the introduced herbivore control programme and how cultural heritage is assessed for projects such as the Peaks Trail.

We then moved on to discuss the development of the new Management Plan. It is a “Landscape” management plan and covers some small reserves to the south of the park as well. A draft plan is expected to be on view by June 2020. There will be a stakeholder reference group consisting of 12-15 members which will meet four times over the next 12 months. Groups involved will be: VNPA, Aboriginal Victoria, Outdoors Education, Grampians Tourism, Bushwalking Victoria, Rock Climbers, Wimmera 4 Wheel drive Club, FOGG, local councils and this Advisory Group.