Grampians Peak Trail – The FOGG Response

Friends Of the Grampians Gariwerd (FOGGs) support in principle the proposal for the Grampians Peaks Trail as set out in the Draft Master Plan and as presented recently at public meetings at Halls Gap, Wartook and Dunkeld.

However we do have concerns around the ‘On-walk hiker lodges’. In the document (page 40) it suggests that 3 lodges would be built along the trail initially, but that this could vary with “market forces”. Does this mean that there could later be pressure to build more lodges so this group of users can potentially do the whole walk using this type of accommodation? In some sections of the document one gets the impression that large sections of the trail will be able to be walked using this style of accommodation. With mega fires becoming a regular occurrence in Victoria and the Grampians having experienced 3 large scale fires in the past 8 years we are concerned about the risks of having such accommodation facilities within the park boundaries. We do appreciate that the restraints on construction imposed by  the various Acts, the zones set out in the Grampians National Park Management Plan, and the bushfire overlays are clearly set out in sections 8.2 and 8.3. We note that there is a reference to “the existing management plan” and as this plan is due for review, we are concerned there could be pressure to weaken some of the zones to allow hiker lodges to be built in currently protected zones. We oppose any private development within the Park; not just for fire reasons, but for ecological and philosophic reasons: the Park is for the protection of the environment: people can enjoy the environment but not at the expense of that resource.

We support the views of the ‘Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commissions’ recent report which favours ‘the development of tourist ventures outside the boundaries of national parks’. We would like to see the trail aligned in such a way as to maximise the use of off park accommodation by licensed tourist operators and individual walkers using their own car shuffles and pickups. The maps on the current plan clearly show where hikers camps would be located and the possible sites for ‘on-walk hikers lodges’ but there is no indication of where off park tourist operators may be able to pick up and drop off hikers. As we favour off park accommodation over on-walk hiker lodges, we would like to make sure trail alignment allows for the type of access required to carry out such a business. We feel that private investment is more likely to come from tourist operators with off park accommodation than private investment in high risk on-walk lodges. We therefore want to make sure this type of business is properly planned for in the planning stages of this trail (in particular trail alignment with access to current roads and tracks).

On page 49 under ‘Servicing and Access’ it is suggested that servicing of lodges in remote locations could be done by helicopter. We would be concerned if this was to occur as use of aircraft in the Grampians for joy flights and tourist purposes has been opposed in the past. If on-walk lodges are constructed they must be able to be serviced by current roads or tracks in the park.

This draft says many good things about the need to protect the environment, and we appreciate the planned careful design of the trail and the hiker camps. We also appreciate that it recognises the important role of the Friends group and the VNPA. It would be a tragedy to let inappropriate commercial interests damage the good will surrounding the project.

Thank you Wendy for drafting our response, which was endorsed by the committee.

PS I am told that well over 100 responses have been received, with many of them echoing our concerns over commercial lodges within the Park. To quote from one passionate local  “These Hiker lodges will require high service from the private operators, concurrently the private operators will expect high service from PV, if they do not get it they will whine to Grampians Tourism/Tourism Vic, then to politicians.

These lodges will only be profitable at a certain scale and tariffs, they will not generate any income for the park, even worse they will cost the park (PV) scarce staff time and money to service.  Not to mention their impact on the environment and the remoteness/wilderness of the Grampians.

Parks Victoria spends too much time catering for tourists as it is – how many staff in PV – Halls Gap are there to promote/service tourists Vs. looking after the place!! (and minimising the tourist’s impact).

Grampians Peak Trail – Project Update May 2014

The trail will be constructed over a number of years in a staged process. The track and hiker campsites form the basis of the core infrastructure necessary. To create the Trail will require the development of approximately 80km of new trail and the upgrade of 64km of existing trails.

Stage One: Halls Gap to Borough Huts

(3 days/2 nights)

Delivery of Stage One is well underway and includes a three day/two night loop walk from Halls Gap to Borough Huts covering a total of 19 kilometres for the return trip. This stage is being delivered by Parks Victoria through $1.3M in funding provided on behalf of the Victorian Government by Regional Development Victoria.

 Stage One achievements to date:

  • An 8.7km track realignment from Mt Rosea to the Belfield Fire Line is complete;
  • Development of a design manual which sets a consistent style for tracks, bridges, signs and hiker camping areas across the whole trail;
  • Detailed planning for the new 24 people capacity hiker campsite at Mount Rosea and construction of a new footbridge over Fyans Creek;
  • Construction of a lookout platform at Mount Rosea;
  • The location of a group camp on Stony Creek road close to the Mount Rosea Hiker Camp has been determined; and
  • Desktop environmental risk assessment and cultural heritage management plan undertaken for the entire trail.

 Stage One Works Remaining

Planning requirements relating to the application of a Bushfire Management Overlay at the Mount Rosea Hiker Camp site are being undertaken prior to any construction commencing.

 Stage Two: Borough Huts to Mount William

The next stage of the project will be extending the trail 13 km from Borough Huts towards Mount William. Planning has yet to commence on this stage of the trail. Victorian Government funding of $1.2 million has been allocated to progress this segment.

The trail is being developed in accordance with the Grampians National Park Management Plan. Existing trails will be used where possible and any trail and associated infrastructure development will be planned to minimise disturbance of sensitive ecosystems, vegetation and fauna.

Fundamental to the preparation of the master plan is the conservation of the natural and cultural values of the Grampians, in accordance with the Grampians National Park Management Plan. Protecting this unique environment is integral to creating an exhilarating and sustainable walking experience. The master plan will consider the services and facilities required to support the long distance walk, including potential opportunities for suitable hiker accommodation within the park, as well as in areas outside the park boundaries. Opportunities for licensed tour operators to guide walkers will also be important.

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If you would like to register your interest in the Grampians Peaks Trail project, and to be kept informed about progress of the master plan, please email Parks Victoria at: 

Advisory Group Report

We have a new Advisory Group. Advertisements asking for expressions of  interest went out in April, and the new members were appointed in early June for a three year term. The first meeting of the new group was held last week. There are five returning members, (Rex Beveridge, Kevin Bolwell, Margo Sietsma, Donald Carter, Gil Hopkins), and ten new members ( Bill Weatherly, Cecilia Myers,  Faith Hardiman,  Ray Zippel,  Deb Millard,  Dick Gill, Tracey Skinner,  Barry Clugston,  Lisa McIntyre, Malcolm Matheson). I remain convenor but will probably hand over to one of the new members well before the three years are up.

Much of that first meeting was taken up with introducing ourselves, defining the role of the AG, our terms of reference, how it relates to the Traditional Owner Reference Group currently being formed, and  to the Fires Roundtable. Dave gave us a snapshot of the park and how it sits in the Parks Victoria “empire” etc.  We had a good discussion of the Grampians Peaks Trail, and how it might impact on the park and decided to prepare a group response, which has now been sent. We also discussed the impact of the new camping fee structure, which the previous AG had had real concerns about and had passed those concerns on to PV management. And Dave flagged that the current management plan (dated 2003)  would be coming under review, probably later this year.

The new group is quite varied, a good representation of younger folk, good male/ female balance, quite a wide range of interests, and all quite passionate about how important the Grampians Park is.

Grampians National Park Update – Northern Grampians Fire Recovery June 2014

Considerable progress is being made towards the reopening of fire affected areas of the Grampians National Park. The Mt Zero Rd (North)  re-opened  for the June long weekend, providing visitor access along the north eastern boundary of the park.

The rehabilitation of dozer-lines created during the suppression (fire-fight) phase is now complete, along with the treatment of trees that presented a clear and immediate risk to park users and staff along park roads.  Trail crews are completing tree risk and soil stabilisation works along walking tracks affected by the fire. Major trail works are commencing in the Hollow Mountain and Stapylton Amphitheatre to improve climbing access.

The September school holidays is the next major milestone for a number of projects including;

  • The re-opening of MacKenzies Falls car park with access to the base of the falls (no kiosk facilities)
  • The re-opening of the Stapylton Amphitheatre climbing area from Mt Zero car park
  • The re-opening of the Hollow Mountain car park with limited climbing access in Summerday Valley climbing area.

Grampians Walking Tracks Support Group

This group, which sits under the Community Association of Halls Gap, share our enthusiasm for the Grampians. I asked the president David Witham (who is also a FOGG member) to tell us a bit about what they do and what some of their plans are.

For a number of years the Group has been accumulating money from its donation boxes situated at strategic points around the National Park and organising working bees with various bushwalking clubs to help maintain the tracks.   Perhaps surprisingly we have had difficulty in spending much of that money on projects within the Park.

Parks management have now developed a proposal to which we are happy to contribute.    Summer Day Valley, accessed from the walking track to Hollow Mountain, has been the most popular single area for rockclimbing in the Grampians for the last 25 years or so.    In particular it has been used intensively by instructional groups, as well as by individual climbers, on account of its wealth of attractive, single pitch climbs.

This heavy usage has created constant environmental problems which have been a concern not only to conservationists and Parks management but also to the majority of climbers themselves.    Various efforts have been made over the years to contain the wear and tear, harden the sites and rationalise the informal tracks that have developed between them but, while many improvements have been made, none have been completely successful.

The area was burned out in the January fires and PV have now put forward a plan to address the major problems on a permanent basis, engaging  professional contractors to spearhead the work and appealing for voluntary help to support them.    I am sure that such help will be forthcoming.

Since the Support Group’s money has been donated by ordinary tourists who are enjoying the walks that the Park has to offer, and the above scheme is primarily in the interests of a single user group, I have been reluctant to commit too large a proportion of our funds to help it.   Having spent most of my life in the climbing world I have therefore launched an appeal to the user groups to support the project both financially and in kind.    It is early days yet but initial signs are hopeful.

Having got the ball rolling, the SupportGroup and Parks management are now beginning to look at other ways of using our funds.   A proposal that I would particularly like to see enacted is the reopening of the Delleys Dell track and making it part of a circular walk from Rosea car park.   Such a track would be very much in the interests of the ordinary, active tourist, as well as all who love the National Park.

David Witham