Track winds back to new cy­cle of pros­per­ity

The Weekend Australian - - THE NATION - SAM BUCK­ING­HAM-JONES

The de­cline of small towns in the Snowy Moun­tains and eastern Rive­rina re­gions of NSW could be avoided through large-scale tourism projects such as a rail trail, a new al­liance of ad­vo­cacy groups be­lieves.

Four dis­tinct groups from the Snowy Moun­tains and the Rive­rina re­gions have banded to­gether to form the Eastern Rive­rina Rail Trail Al­liance, in an at­tempt to bol­ster their strength to cam­paign for 125km of trails to be built in the area. NSW, they say, has fallen be­hind. Of the more than 100 rail trails around Aus­tralia, not one is in NSW, al­liance sec­re­tary Phil Bar­ton said.

“It’s about peo­ple. Tourism can grow jobs in hos­pi­tal­ity, new cafes, that sort of thing. That’s where the growth will be,” he said.

A 53km rail­way from Coota­mundra to Gunda­gai opened in the mid-1880s, and was ex­tended by an­other 51km to Tu­mut in 1903.

A sep­a­rate, 29km line through Bat­low in the Snowy Moun­tains — mostly used to move ap­ples — was opened in 1922. It op­er­ated for al­most 100 years, be­fore clos­ing in the mid-1980s af­ter a ma­jor storm washed away sec­tions of the track.

“It wasn’t un­til I re­tired and started tour­ing Aus­tralia with a push­bike that I re­alised how big rail trails were. I started vis­it­ing all the rail trails in Vic­to­ria,” Mr Bar­ton said. “It’s con­sumed my life. Tu­mut’s been go­ing back­wards. The pop­u­la­tion has gone back 1200 since 1980. Fifty per cent of our econ­omy is tim­ber, that’s a big part. Hor­ti­cul­ture and agri­cul­ture is 25 per cent, the other 25 per cent is tourism.”

Steven Kaye, from na­tional group Rail Trails Aus­tralia, said while the laws in NSW made it harder — rail lines must be closed by an act of par­lia­ment — the state should look to New Zealand for an ex­am­ple.

“I was stand­ing in a small town in New Zealand a few days ago,” he said. “I could count five bike racks and all of them are full. Rail trails will pro­gres­sively grow as the idea set­tles down and more peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence cy­cle tourism.”

Tu­mut res­i­dent Belinda South­well, 37, watches her sons Archie, 7, and Lewis, 5, ride around town.

“They love their bikes,” Ms South­well said.

“If (a trail) brings peo­ple to town, it can’t be wrong. It’d be good to do it as a fam­ily. Some farm­ers are for it, some are to­tally against it. Some don’t want peo­ple on their place. I don’t see how more peo­ple com­ing through could be bad. It’s more peo­ple watch­ing your place, too.”

The next step, Mr Bar­ton said, was to raise $70,000 to hire pro­fes­sional rail trail plan­ners to sur­vey the Tu­mut-to-Bat­low site.

A 22km trail be­tween Rose- wood and Tum­barumba in south­ern NSW will be the pi­lot project, the first in the state.

The NSW gov­ern­ment gave $4.9 mil­lion from the Re­gional Tourism In­fra­struc­ture Fund to sup­port the project, which is be­ing man­aged by the Snowy Val­leys Coun­cil.

NSW Deputy Premier John Bar­i­laro, the mem­ber for Monaro which takes in some of the area un­der con­sid­er­a­tion, said the gov­ern­ment was fund­ing the pi­lot.

“Our pol­icy is to only con­sider rail trail projects which have the strong back­ing of their lo­cal com­mu­nity,” he said.

“There are a range of im­pacts that need to be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion, in­clud­ing the views of af­fected landown­ers.”

RYAN OSLAND

Belinda South­well with Archie, 7, and Lewis, 5, in Tu­mut. Ms South­well sup­ports cy­cle tourism: ‘If (a trail) brings peo­ple to town, it can’t be wrong’

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