There is no argument that the Alpine National Park in Victoria is a spectacularly beautiful place. But, like almost all nature reserves across the world, there is disagreement about whether there is a need for commercial development to enable people to visit.
At present there are heated arguments relating to the remote walking trail area known as the Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing, in Victoria’s east.
The Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing spans 37 kilometres from Falls Creek to Mount Hotham through Victoria’s Alpine National Park. The trail, usually done over three days, passes historic huts and beautiful Snow Gum woodlands. The walk offers incredible views of mountain ranges, wildflowers and starry night skies free from light pollution.
This is a popular multi-day hike for people wanting to experience the beauty of the Alpine National Park, or who want the challenge of a multi-day hike, and those who just want to spend some time getting away from it all and re-connecting with nature.
Parks Victoria is planning development along this walk that will include track upgrades and new accommodation. The Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing Master Plan outlines the route, design guidelines and implementation of the project.
As with all development proposals, the plan provides detailed information about the economic benefits of the project, which it estimates at more than $23 million in increased visitor spending by 2027.
In contrast to the detailed economic information provided, there is only brief mention of the environmental benefits of the project. These include providing education to a larger number of visitors, using environmentally sensitive design and provision of a pest management strategy.
In spring 2022, Parks Victoria sought feedback from the community on draft concept designs for the project. In February, results from this engagement process were released. According to the Consultation Summary Report, 427 people participated in the online survey. While some shared positive feedback about the project, the opportunity was used by many to express their high levels of concern.
Issues were raised about environmental impacts, commercialisation, the purpose of the project, the engagement process, equitable access, encouraging inexperienced users, the validity of the business case and safety.
Engagement was also done on a previous draft plan for the project. The results from that process showed that almost 90% of respondents were strongly opposed to the project.
This is not the only proposed development in a national park that people are concerned about. There is growing concern about tourism driven developments right across Australia. A recent poll by the National Parks Australia Council found that almost 80% of respondents were against development within national parks.
Two men who have a shared love of the outdoors, put the full range of arguments into perspective for Cosmos Weekly.
In favour of the Alpine National Park development
Adrian Manikas is the Managing Director of Absolute Outdoors, a tour operating business that has been running for more than 30 years. It runs adventure tourism activities like hiking, rock climbing and canoeing.
Manikas believes the Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing project is a positive step forward for tourism in Victoria.
“It’s a great thing that Parks Victoria are finally catching up with the rest of the country in creating infrastructure that enables a wider range of users to experience our parks,” he says.
“There are a huge amount of people getting up and exploring these areas and parts of the park and the current level of infrastructure is not sustainable.”
“There are a huge amount of people getting up and exploring these areas and parts of the park and the current level of infrastructure is not sustainable.”Adrian Manikas
To Manikas, providing positive adventure experiences in national parks is an important way for people to engage with nature.
“Our goal is to take as many people as possible on these walks, as sustainably as possible, with the idea that the more people that come out here and experience them and fall in love with them, the more people that we’ll have back in the city advocating for their protection.”
The project will provide benefits for Manikas’ business. By having access to improved infrastructure, they will be able to provide an enhanced experience and increase the diversity of people they can take on walks.
Manikas isn’t surprised by the number of objections to the project. He believes most objections are coming from people that are either misinformed about the details of the project or people who are against any form of development in a national park. Manikas has a different point of view, that recreational opportunities are one of the important purposes of a national park.
“There are some people out there that believe that all national parks should be there completely for conservation and any development is wrong because it should be entirely wilderness.”
“That’s not what national parks are set up for. Conservation is part of it, but there’s other equal values like recreation that do need to be balanced across the park.”
Against the Alpine National Park development
Darren Edwards, founder of Keep it Wild Australia is a passionate outdoors enthusiast. He started Keep it Wild Australia to bring awareness to people about commercial development in national parks. He provides details on his website to inform people of developments being proposed in national parks across Australia.
Edwards believes getting out into nature is important for our mental health, allowing people to disconnect from a busy world. He is seriously concerned about the proposed development in the Alpine National Park.
“It’s disturbing for me to see commercialisation and commercial development creeping into these unique and wild places when the industrialised world is exactly what people are trying to escape from.
“It’s disturbing for me to see commercialisation and commercial development creeping into these unique and wild places when the industrialised world is exactly what people are trying to escape from.”Darren Edwards
“Escaping thousands of people and the pressure of everyday life is one of the reasons people get into nature and the outdoors. It’s critical for all our mental health.”
The large number of objections to the project does not surprise Edwards either. He is concerned that economic benefits are being prioritised over environmental protection and that national parks are being treated as a resource to exploit, rather than an asset to be protected.
“Land managers have been appointed as stewards of the land, they’re supposed to be caring for the land, protecting the land and preserving the land for future generations.”
In Edwards’ opinion, the accommodation being proposed is unnecessary and should not be built. He says there are already accessible accommodation options for people to explore the area.
“If people don’t feel they are able to carry their own packs, there are plenty of commercial tour guides who will happily provide this very service and can recommend quality accommodation outside the park.”
“I think they are completely unnecessary and there’s plenty of opportunities for those types of developments to be sited outside of public parks. You do have to wonder, are these developments really about experiencing wilderness or simply tourism organisations trying to cash in on the ecotourism boom?”
Where to from here? Despite high levels of objection towards the project, Parks Victoria is forging ahead. Parks Victoria District Manager Chris Derrick says “Following the consultation report, we’re progressing to detailed design. This includes full environmental and cultural heritage assessments.”