Rhonda arranged a presentation on the status of the Peaks Trail to both the Advisory Group and members of FOGGS. Due to the Covid restrictions most attended via Microsoft Teams, and only five of us sat in the Mural Room at HG, four from the AG (including me) and one other from FOGGS. On line were two FOGGIES and two AG members and a few more Melbourne Park staff. Prue Daley co-ordinated it but the presentation was from Koel Wrigley from head office in Melbourne. Rhonda was also with us at the start but could not stay due to urgent work commitments. Those of us in the room tended to keep our questions until later, whereas apparently some in the online group were asking questions from early on. However, unfortunately technical problems meant that those of us in the room at HG couldn’t see the questions that were coming in online, and so were somewhat confused at how they were dealt with.
Koel then proceeded with her talk also using a series of Powerpoint slides which I captured on my phone for this report. She started with giving us some background (Slides 1,2 & 3). It will be 160km long, can be done in sections or as a 13 day journey. It is part of a portfolio of 4 walks under the trademark of Walk Victoria’s Icons, and is intended to increase tourism to regional Victoria. This is something I had either forgotten or not completely taken in, and I think it is the reason it is so Melbourne driven. The budget is over $33 million and it is hoped it will be completed by December 2020.
We were given a map of the route (paper one for those in the room). You can see it and more photos and information online at
https://www.parks.vic.gov.au/projects/grampians-peaks-trail. The site has had a community update added after our meeting.
There will be 12 sections of track and 12 camps. To construct the camps clearing of vegetation, movement of rocks etc, installing some boardwalks and stairs are required. Some upgrades to existing access roads are needed. Signage of different kinds too.
So current activities (slide 4) include the track construction work and vegetation clearing, the campgrounds, two bridges in the southern end, stairways on the side of Mt Sturgeon, provision of drinking water both along the track and at campsites, negotiations with traditional owner groups, four local councils, Grampians Tourism DELWP, PV and Regional development Vic.
The next slide (5) was on the design drivers and the trail alignment. Koel talked about the many factors involved : environment, cultural, statutory, local community etc. She told us that the trail and the campgrounds were located to minimise impact by: maximise use of existing trails (over 35%), minimise size of campgrounds, avoid culturally important locations. Expertise of consultants, traditional owners, PV staff and local community has been listened to.
Next slide (6) was on Environmental management. We were told that they were minimising the environmental impact by avoiding sensitive ecological areas, use of boardwalks in some track areas and at the camps, responsible management of grey and black water, vegetation removal mainly by hand, careful management of PC threat. There was full statutory compliance with respect to the various legislation, planning permits, plus accurate recording of vegetation removal to meet DELWP procedures. This is where there was strong disagreement via online comments, particularly with respect to Mt Abrupt and Mt Sturgeon areas.
Koel then went on to more details of accounting for vegetation removal (Slide 7). The transfer of Dunkeld rifle range into the Park was part of this, so was the rehabilitation of disturbed areas at Mt Christabel, some track closures and funding of the sallow wattle programme. We were also told that the compensation for the vegetation removal will be across the state, not just the Grampians, which worried Wendy and me. We were told that there will be a full report on vegetation removal and offsets at the end of the project. They couldn’t give us figures for what has happened so far.
We then moved on to the Hike-In Campgrounds (Slides 8,9). We were assured that each of the 12 has been designed to sit discreetly in the environment and there has been extensive cultural heritage assessments. Each site will have: a main shelter or gathering space (except for the one at Durd Durd), separate toilet building, tent pads, boardwalks and tracks positioned to minimise environmental impact, 11 of them are for general use, one for groups, especially schools.
The next slide had more information on the huts (10). The Master Plan (when?) outlined the intention to provide some roofed accommodation to support a diversity of walkers on the trail. There will be 3 huts at 2 camps (Gar and Werdug), each will have 4 beds. The huts will be built and managed by PV and used by Licensed Tour Operators, including Barenji Gadjin Land Council it is hoped, (see questions later). They will be low impact, not suitable as fire refuges, easily removable (they can be helicoptered out if they don’t get used), sleeping only, no cooking or heating facilities. Where Barenji Gadjin act as tour operators they will be able to light a fire in a fireplace for some teaching about cultural practices, but not for cooking or warmth.
Next steps (Slide11): There will be updates in the community newsletter and online community sessions. A prospectus for Licensed tour operators will be released and information sessions for them held. Meanwhile work on tracks and campsites will continue.
So, further discussion, further questions.
I think we were all (AG & FOGGS) happy with using indigenous names for camps wherever possible. Quite a few of us had concerns that other licensed tour operators were going to be licensed whereas we had thought it would be just indigenous operators. In the past some LTOs had indulged in questionable practices like rock stacking. Will they use that fireplace? Some AG members were disappointed that the question of LTO’s and huts hadn’t come to the AG for discussion previously.
We had several concerns about the discussion on environmental management. I felt that the “tracks closed to compensate for the new tracks created” including the Bomjinna track closure was stretching the facts a bit, but in fact I was quite wrong. It was in the 2014 document. And is Peaks trail money actually going towards sallow wattle control? We have misgivings also about the compensation for vegetation removal being done across the state rather than just this park.
As I mentioned earlier, Catherine strongly felt that the track near Mt Abrupt was destroying old growth moss/lichen forest which is rarely seen in the Grampians landscape and which is impossible to restore or replace. She was also concerned that the Southern Grampians Shire council had succeeded in changing the location of the campsite after it had already been cleared, also concerned about the bulldozed road into Cassidy Gap campground. Tourism being seen as more important than the environment. Ross also was concerned about access for rescue personnel in this area as he had checked part of the track. He was reminded that he shouldn’t have gone into a closed track. Here I want to support him. It’s fair enough to close the track to people who just want to have a walk in the bush, but those who may have really useful feedback should be able to have a look. Indeed early on in the planning, we were invited to take a look. FOGGS were invited to comment on the Bugiga campground back in July 2015 and were accompanied by Mark Whyte from the HG office, the AG were taken to give feedback on whether the track was too close to a newly discovered art site more recently. Other groups of volunteer bushwalkers were also used early on to help decide the track route.
Other questions were on poor communication with the HG Botanic garden group and the HG Recreation Reserve about the track coming through HG, queries about the track crossing busy roads, and the really major one of the maintenance of the track in the future and the effect that will have on the GNP budget, which has been the theme of the AG since the very beginning.
So I do hope that Koel did not feel that she was under attack, our frustration is not with her, but that the need to make sure that this Park’s environment must be the absolute first priority. Tourism must always come second. There were plenty of fine words on some of the slides, but they need to be put into practice.