Private ecotourism infrastructure in Queensland national parks: win-win or thin edge of the wedge! – National Parks Association of Queensland

Private ecotourism infrastructure in Queensland national parks: win-win or thin edge of the wedge!

Author: Laura Hahn, Conservation Principal, National Parks Association of Queensland (NPAQ)

Recently NPAQ members, through a survey, confirmed support for a significant expansion and better management of Queensland’s National Park Estate. No real surprise there. There was also clear support for NPAQ’s 10 points describing leading practice for ecotourism in national parks (and see below). We believe these would strengthen the current government ecotourism framework.

Some members who responded to our survey also took the opportunity to share their concerns about the Queensland government’s recent request for expressions of interest to private operators for ecotourism infrastructure in three national parks: the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook National Park, the Cooloola Great Walk in Great Sandy National Park and the Whitsunday Island Trail on Whitsunday Islands National Park. Some member comments on this can be viewed here, presented in approximate proportion of views. This continues to be a contentious issue and strong views continue to be expressed, as in this letter to government.

What is often portrayed as a win-win for the environment and economy, in reality, raises complex issues around what is ecologically sustainable, whether small sections of public national parks should be effectively privatised, and how to maintain the integrity of the park experience for all visitors. While supported multiday walks in national parks attract visitors in other states and internationally, NPAQ has yet to see actual evidence on the impacts and benefits (short- and long-term) to national parks.

 Private huts on the Three Capes Walk, Tasmania. Photo: S. Cooper. Private huts on the Three Capes Walk, Tasmania. Photo: S. Cooper.

Tasmania is typically held up as the model for ecotourism. However, trek companies and conservationists in Tasmania warn the rush for huts, lodges and helipads threatens to destroy the wilderness values on which the eco-tourism industry is based.

Also, a constrained plan, developed following extensive consultation, for sensitively placed commercial cabins in Flinders Chase National Park, South Australia, has been over ridden under what appears to be a closed process following a change in government. The Australian Walking Company now plans to site the development on ecologically and aesthetically sensitive areas of the National Park despite protests. Having walked the track in 2017, Susanne Cooper, NPAQ Councillor and retired Sustainability Specialist, says the less sensitively located proposal would compromise the integrity of the “wilderness” of the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Track and the Flinders Chase National Park.

What do you think? Leave your comments below.

Looking for more information? Here are a few key links to recent media.

Supported Multi-day Walks in National Parks – Leading Practices from evidenced-based learnings:

1. Accommodation is best located adjacent to or near national parks, rather than within. Supporting infrastructure within national parks is to be temporary in nature and suitable for easy removal.

2. When needed to support genuine ecotourism activities, accommodation within national parks is to be low key, sensitively designed and in harmony with the surrounding landscape.

3. Servicing of accommodation/facilities is to have minimal impact and be restricted to limited periods to minimise disturbance to wildlife and visitor experience. Mandatory orientation and authentic interpretation is to be provided and reinforced during visitor activities to achieve experiences based upon appreciation and respect of natural and cultural values. All messages and material are to be approved by QPWS.

4. Infrastructure such as walking tracks and lookouts are to have minimal impact and are to be thoughtfully designed to reflect local conditions of slope, soil, vegetation and visibility.

5. High impact and thrill-seeking activities are not supported or endorsed.

6. Thorough, transparent and independent impact assessment is to be undertaken with enforce-able conditions to ensure natural and cultural values are properly protected.

7. An upfront bond is provided equal to the full cost of rectifying significant risks, including de-commissioning of infrastructure and rehabilitation.

8. The activities/facilities environmental effects are monitored, assessed for risk, and reported on an annual basis, including any necessary remedial measures. To be publicly available upon request.

9. Revenue generated for Government is directed to national parks management and publicly reported.

10. A cap on visitor numbers is applied based upon ecological resilience and maintaining visitor experience.

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