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Category: Tourism / Travel and Tourism / Environmental Impact / Environmental Management / National Parks

Bushwalkers, green groups at odds over South Coast Track plan

Monday, 20 Mar 2017 09:03:16 | Ted O'Connor

Tasmania's main bushwalking group says it supports a walking tour with new cabins for Tasmania's South Coast Track, but Bob Brown has described the proposal as a "nightmare come true" for nature lovers.

The disagreement comes as new figures revealed Tasmania's tourism industry is experiencing a surge in visitor numbers.

The proposed tour and associated accommodation takes in 84 kilometres of uninhabited and rugged coast from Melaleuca to Cockle Creek in the Wilderness World Heritage Area.

Ian Johnstone, the founder of the Maria Island Walk tourism business, wants to run guided tours with customers to stay in five self-contained cabins, which would be hidden from the view of regular walkers.

The tourism venture is hoped to create 20 full-time jobs and boost the economy in an area marred by high levels of youth unemployment.

Bushwalking Tasmania president Andrew Davey supports the proposal and dismissed concerns over its wilderness character.

"It's well walked, there's plenty of camping sites, occasionally a bit over-crowded. All you have to do is walk a couple of hundred metres off the track and you've got it [wilderness]," he said.

It has been proposed that helicopters would be used to build and service the huts, but some experienced bushwalkers have played down their impact.

"Helicopters can be an issue, if they are persistent, but the occasional helicopter servicing something hasn't created problems," Mr Davey said.

"It's a little bit annoying if you are walking in that area at the time, but that's progress."

Bob Brown against making track more accessible

But former Greens leader and Tasmanian environmentalist Bob Brown described the proposal as a "nightmare come true".

"Do you put a moving footway so that everybody can have access to the wildest track on the planet, for wealthy people who want a glass of red at night?" he said.

"Tasmania has hundreds of places ... for people who are not so fit."

The South Coast Track is often muddy with difficult river crossings. The Parks and Wildlife website states:

"The South Coast Track is a challenging walk in a region of Tasmania exposed to harsh weather conditions. There are no huts along the track. Track conditions are often difficult. Walkers must be fully self-sufficient, well-equipped and experienced."

Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service are undertaking $2 million of maintenance works including board-walking some sections.

Mr Brown said that work could continue on for decades to appease tourism operators.

"So called dry-shoe tracks, high-heels if you like," he said.

"This is the thin edge of the wedge ... taxpayers will pay for it."

Bushwalking groups at odds with Wilderness Society

Vica Bayley from the Wilderness Society said the proposal should have never made it to the second stage of the Tasmanian Government's Wilderness World Heritage Area (WWHA) expressions of interest (EOI) process.

He argued the plans contravened Tasmania and the Commonwealth's commitment to UNESCO to ensure new tourism developments do not compromise an area's wilderness character.

"Wilderness by definition is remote, incredibly intact and free of colonial-built developments, things like roads, houses, huts," Mr Bayley said.

"Tasmania's World Heritage Area has long used wilderness as the primary tool to demonstrate we're protecting its natural and its cultural values."

Hobart Walking Club president Philip Le Grove said he supported the proposal, although it was not the official position of his group.

"I see this as an opportunity for people who are not perhaps skilled enough to walk in these sorts of areas, to walk in a group that is guided," he said.

"It is a wonderful environment, it's a wonderful wilderness and I would like to see as many people as possible enjoy it."

Tasmanian Environment Minister Matthew Groom said EOI proposals were subject to normal planning assessments and necessary state and Commonwealth approvals.

"Proposals that do receive approval will have a set of conditions in place to ensure they operate within a framework that does not compromise any values of that area," he said.

A spokesman for Mr Groom's federal Liberal counterpart Josh Frydenberg said any proposal that might significantly impact on wilderness values would need to be assessed under Commonwealth environmental law.

 

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