Parks Victoria clears vegetation the size of 7 MCG stadiums in the Grampians National Park. How do they get away with it? Look what we found! A submission document from Parks Victoria to the Federal Government’s Department of Environment and Energy about the environmental impact of the Grampians Peaks Trail. The document is dated 19/10/2017 and signed off by PV’s District Manager Gavan Mathieson (who has apparently subsequently “resigned” in mysterious circumstances). It contains detailed information about the scale of the environmental damage that will occur during the construction of the still unfinished Grampians Peaks Trail. You can read and see a bit more about the Peaks Trail in two of our previous article #notclimbers and Grampians Peaks Fail.
Now download the submission document here and take a look at the catalogue of horrors within…
This is not the public spin version you may have seen online on Visit Victoria’s website or the pro-economic growth driven Master Plan from 2014. This is the real thing – where PV attempts to justify “the removal of approximately 14.4ha of native vegetation“.
It’s in stark contrast to what PV has been publishing in public about the GPT. Check this classic example from PV’s Rock Climbing Information Page
Let’s examine some of the juicy material within this document. Warning – if you don’t enjoy hypocrisy from land managers we suggest you don’t read further.
The 160km Grampians Peaks Trail (GPT) within the Grampians National Park will entail the removal of approximately 14.4ha of native vegetation comprising:
• 12.1ha for 97.5km of new walking track;
• 0.3ha for 1.62km of vehicle access tracks;
• 0.9ha for 11 new hiker camps; and
• 1.1ha for 5 new trailheads and extension to 5 existing trailheads.
The project footprint is limited to 14.4 ha. Within a 167,000-hectare conservation reserve, this represents a very small direct impact to native vegetation and habitat for significant species
What does 14.4 ha actually equal in square metres? 144,000m²!
What does that equal? An area one kilometer wide by 140m across. We will make it easier for you to visualize. Below is the area transposed over Mt Stapylton and Hollow Mountain.
The area is equivalent to destroying the entire vegetation in the Stapylton Amphitheater between Camp Sandy and Taipan. But don’t worry…
Do you consider this impact to be significant?
144,000m² isn’t significant apparently.
97.5km of new walking track
That’s right. To make the Grampians Peaks Trail they have to cut, from scratch, 97km of brand new track into the bush. Unlike a climbers track, which just wears in from repeated footfalls, this “official” track has to conform to strict guidelines. And that means chop chop chop.
All low overhanging tree limbs will be cleared to a height of 2,200mm above the finished surface of the new walking trail.
• 55.5km will be cleared of vegetation to a width of 600mm, with existing onsite rock used to bench the trail.
•38km and 1km will be 800mm and 1.2m wide respectively. On these wider sections the existing humus layer and vegetation will be removed.
What happens to all that vegetation wastage? If a tree stands in the way of a straight track, they will chainsaw it down, turn it into woodchips and add it as mulch along the track edges. Bonus!
the trail surface will be made up of onsite soil and/or mulched vegetation chipped onto the track.
And if a rocky outcrop gets in the way you don’t walk around it – you bolt a staircase to it, or carve into the rock to make a “natural” staircase. These sorts of constructions are vastly different to the way a climbers track is “built”. In fact, that word shouldn’t apply to climbers tracks as they are more of an evolution that slips around natural features and seasons much like a river. Trees are not cut down because they are in the way, they are walked around. A creek crossing is exactly that – a place to get your feet wet. A rocky scramble is a rocky scramble – not a set of ladders and handrails. It’s hard to get a permit for a track that can move it’s location every year because the local animals and weather decide to change it’s path.
Of course there are tracks larger than just footpads to major climbing areas. For example the track from Camp Sandy to Taipan. That’s a climbers track right? Well recent information we have on hand is that PV themselves have been using the Camp Sandy “climbers” track to drive track building vehicles into the Stapylton Amphitheater! You can see the evidence of mechanical scrapes and scratches all along the track from this. It seems when convenience requires it climbers tracks are pretty great.
138 New Carparks!
To cater for all these new Peaks Trails hikers, Parks Victoria are bulldozing the bush to create 138 new carparking spots all along the spine of the Grampians from north to south. The document revels the exact number of new and upgraded carparks, including ones at well known climbing sites such as Mt Zero (the carpark for Taipan Wall).
Mt Zero Picnic Area: 22 existing carparks, 24 new carparks, mini bus and coach parking, 1 new picnic table, and a gathering area. The activity area is 5,910m², with the extent of vegetation clearing being 1,290m².
So they are going to clear 1,290m² of bush at Stapylton so they can cram more cars, more people, more money and most likely more environmental problems into the area. Climbing areas in the southern and central Grampians seem slated for even bigger changes including whole new carparks and campgrounds. For example…
Redman Rd: 20 new carparks, mini bus and coach parking, 3 picnic tables, water tank, and a gathering area. The activity area is 2,760m², with the extent of vegetation clearing being 2,300m².
But isn’t this area an SPA? One of the largest losses of climbing due to the alleged ban is the huge SPA encircling Barbican Walls, The Dials, Redman’s Buff, Dreamtime and Mt William. The vague maps showing SPA areas published by Parks Victoria seem to show the entire area along Redman Road and Mt William being a Special Protection Area. Surely 2,300m² of vegetation clearing is not allowed in an SPA? And that brings up a really interesting point.
No mention of SPAs
A simple word search of the entire document for “Special Protection” or “SPA” brings up zero results. Surely SPA zoning would be a major obstacle to creating this trail and should be mentioned all through this document? How much of the 14.4 ha of native vegetation removal is in an SPA area? This document does not reveal that. Remember that according to Parks Victoria the SPA’s “are places that are particularly special or are at significant risk. This could be because it is a protected Aboriginal site, or have a threatened species of plant or animal that is vulnerable to human activity.“
It seems PV are entirely willing to bend their own rules when required. When head office says “chop” they reply “how much?”
No Mention of Huts
When these permits were sought way back in 2017 they seemed to be pretty certain that hiker lodges were not part of the plan. That’s code for huts.
Feedback received supported the concept of the GPT, including the hiker camps, however some concerns regarding private sector investment in hiker lodges were raised. Establishment of hiker lodges does not form part of the current project.
But low and behold in 2019, according to a Friends of the Grampians article, PV seems to have snuck in the approval of commercial huts (not just tent platforms) along the whole Grampians Peaks Trail. They call them “pods” but we suspect it is just a bit of wordplay to disguise what they really are. Take a read…
“The timeline has changed, and it will not be complete before March 2020. The main problem is the hiker camps, 4 will be completed by March 2020, there are 11 altogether. Then pods will be constructed at the same camp sites. These are currently only for people doing the PV indigenous cultural guided tour.
Clearly”some concerns” were ignored and “does not form part of the current project” does not mean it won’t happen.
The major thing missing in the entire document is any reference to upgrading already established tracks. Since approximately 50km of this multi-day trail uses “established” tracks it would be interesting to know how much they are widening or otherwise enhancing these sections to fit the higher volume of walkers associated with the GPT. Environmental damage from this is not factored into the 14.4 ha quoted by PV. We know it’s happening.
Clearly these upgraded tracks are substantially wider than even the 1.2m maximum width that PV quoted. The photo below shows damage at least 3m across on the Major Mitchell Plateau.
Now we are sure some you PV apologists will be thinking “but it’s all ok because PV did it by the book. They filled out all the required paperwork, did the assessments and got the permits etc etc”. But the end result is still 144,000m² of government sanctioned destruction to the Grampians, including swathes within the Special Protection Areas. When someone says climbing in SPAs could never get approved because of what zoning it is in – show them this GPT document. There are ways. Or is there?
Why Can’t This System Apply to Climbing Areas?
The crux here is that the so called “banned” climbing areas already exist. The tracks to them already exist. The safety bolts are already installed. The majority of them have existed for many decades – with most of them existing well before they were zoned into SPAs in 2003. So the whole permit and approval system that PV went through for the Grampians Peaks Trail actually doesn’t work for our climbing areas. You can’t retrospectively get this kind of approval. So where does that leave us?
The ridiculous “permit to harm” that was used to reopen Summer Day Valley to commercial groups is not a workable system. Not only is it inappropriate (it is supposed to be used for a high impact activities where someone seeks to damage or risk damage to cultural artifacts – mining or property construction for example) – it is also expensive. It also doesn’t apply to environmental issues – just Aboriginal cultural heritage.
Climbing areas are largely static in their impact once established. The biggest impact over time is usually gradual erosion at the base of boulders and cliffs, minor vegetation damage on walking tracks and chalk build up on holds. In most cases this can be abated quite easily with a little money and elbow grease. Climbing areas in the Grampians don’t suddenly require 20 extra carparks, picnic tables, huts, toilet blocks, boardwalks and mini bus parking. If you climb at Bundaleer today – it looks almost identical to what it looked like in the 1960s – even down to the roadside parking. The track is a little eroded and there are a few more lines of bolts – but the general wildness of the place remains. Climbers are not asking for it to be tamed in any way. Do these static areas really require approval if they have existed for so many years?
Now lets compare Bundaleer to the nearby “approved” walking destination of the Wonderland area. Heavy changes and plenty of them. The tourist debacle to The Pinnacle lookout is now approached by a massive bitumen road, has an ever expanding carpark, metal handrails, large signs, stone steps and a rusting hulk of a lookout bleaching the rock below. That’s what it looks like today and you can bet in the future the track will be tamed even further with more carparks, handrails and “hardening” of the track to handle more people. The lookout is surely due to be replaced. Maybe a glass floored monstrosity like is all the rage overseas? This is called approved progress in the eyes of PV.