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Governing body push

Governing body push

Climbers push for returned access to Grampians national park

Plans to form a peak governing body representing rock climbers in Victoria have been fast-tracked as climbers continue to push for returned access to sites in Grampians National Park.

Parks Victoria announced the closure of several ‘special protection areas’ in the park in February, citing concerns about the cultural and environmental impact of rock climbing activity.

The Grampians region, known as Gariwerd to local Aboriginal groups, is home to about 90 percent of known Aboriginal rock art sites in Victoria.

Parks Victoria said the actions of some climbers had angered Aboriginal groups, with fixed bolts and corrosive chalk found within metres of art sites.

Climbing groups argued the bans were reactionary and made without proper consultation, putting financial strain on licensed tour operators who run rock-climbing schools in the area.

A meeting between several tour operators and representatives from Parks Victoria, Aboriginal Victoria and the state government was held in Halls Gap earlier this month.

Victorian Climbing Club, VCC, president Paula Toal said the meeting had been a positive step forward, but still left uncertainty for tour operators.

Climbing permits for Summerday Valley in the northern Grampians expire on June 30, and there are no plans to renew them.

“If we lose Summerday Valley in the long term, I think tour operators are really going to suffer,” Mrs Toal said.

“It is a destination for people who come to Victoria to go climbing, and if they only climb modest grades it’s one of the few places with quality modest grade climbing. It also impacts not just the licensed tour operators, but businesses in that area.

“I’m sure this is having a huge impact on places like Mount Zero Log Cabins, because that business really caters to the climbing community.

“We’re ticking up to a deadline that is now less than two weeks away and I don’t know that any further communications or assurances have been made to the LTOs.

“It’s one of those situations where, having worked with government before and the bureaucracy involved, these things take time.

“I’m not alarmed or concerned, but it’s obviously a bit dissatisfying that we’re not necessarily moving forward as quickly as we’d like to.” A Parks Victoria spokesman described the meeting as ‘constructive’.

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He said there were still plenty of places open to climbers in the Grampians, but Parks Victoria would continue access negotiations with climbers.

Mrs Toal said the VCC and other groups such as Sport Climbing Victoria and Outdoors Victoria were now focused on forming a peak body representing all climbers in Victoria by the end of the year.

She said a peak body would give the state’s climbers a unified voice.

“Sport Australia has done surveys in the past couple of years that showed 45,000 Victorians identify as climbers, but fewer than 5000 of those people are members of any club,” Mrs Toal said.

“Until we talk more cohesively, it’s hard for us to say we speak on behalf of the climbing community.”

Mrs Toal said there had been an initial meeting to form a founding council for the new body, with representatives from several clubs and licensed tour operators.

“Part of the process will be to do a statewide roadshow where we go to town halls and invite the community to provide input,” she said.

“We’ve got an ambitious timeframe that we would be out for consultation in August and September, with an aim to finalise everything by the end of the year and get state recognition as a recreational organisation by early in the new year.”

Mrs Toal said the VCC was also involved in the drafting of a statewide climbing management plan with climbing access group Australian Climbing Association Victoria.

“I think we’re in a position to take some best-practice examples from around the world and put together a document that at the very least will be a useful discussion tool to move this forward and get some agreement and amendments to policies within Parks Victoria that return access to us,” she said.

Mrs Toal stressed the way forward for climbers was working with Parks Victoria, Aboriginal groups and the government.

“Parks Victoria are the land managers and we’ve got to work with them, not against them,” she said.

“Groups like Save Grampians Climbing are putting out a lot of stories but they tend to be inflammatory.

“I plan to reach out to them and make sure they’re following the right protocols to not offend traditional owners and inflame the situation.

“While we’re pushing, we need to be respectful.”

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