The East Gippsland Rail Trail is in line for a major redevelopment as part of plans to revitalise the fire ravaged district.
The community managed trail is seeking a total of $6.5M from the Federal and State Governments to upgrade the trail and lure visitors back to the region that suffered terribly in the last bushfire season.
The trail takes bike riders through some spectacular landscapes, and with some enhancements, would link to equally spectacular coastal features.
The trail was originally built between 1998 and 2008, stretching 100 kilometres along the disused rail track between Bairnsdale and Orbost, but would benefit from more investment.
The federal member for Gippsland, Darren Chester, is strongly backing the bid to get funding for the upgrade and to link the trail to Lakes Entrance.
Mr Chester has been working closely with the volunteer rail-trail committee and has prepared the bid for $6.5 million in funding.
“At almost 100 kilometres, the East Gippsland Rail Trail is the longest of the 11 trails in Gippsland and links Bairnsdale to Orbost with a safe, off-road exercise option for cyclists, runners and hiking,” Mr Chester said.
“The trail is managed and maintained by volunteers with very limited resources and we need an investment of this level to improve the experience of trail users and boost the visitor economy.
“If we can expand our tourism product to encourage visitors throughout the year, we will have a more resilient regional economy.
“Importantly, the trail traverses communities such as Orbost, Wairewa, Nowa Nowa, Bruthen, Wiseleigh, Nicholson and Bairnsdale which suffered significant social, environmental and economic losses in the 2020 bushfires.”
The committee has prioritised five key improvements:
1.Trail surface works – re-surfacing of key sections of the trail to provide a more consistent, convenient and safe trial surface, while maintaining the trails "adventure” experience
2. Stronger links to townships – improvement of connections to towns along the trail to encourage users to stop and utilise local services and facilities
3. Making more of trial highlights – provision of additional interpretive facilities to showcase the natural, historical and aboriginal cultural features along the trail
4. Providing additional infrastructure – additional facilities for uses, including rest areas, seating shelter and water
5. Remedial works to address drainage, erosion and vegetation management – works to deal with erosion risks, damage to the trail caused by poor drainage and weed and vegetation management to remove obstructions.
Local advocates say the $6.5M redevelopment plan would create jobs during construction, reduce the maintenance burden and help to attract more volunteers to participate in community-driven projects to enhance the visitor experience.
And it is the only bushfire recovery project proposed by the community which covers such a broad area and would deliver significant benefits to each locality along the route.
Mr Chester said: “We need to move quickly as a region to improve our facilities and take advantage of the increase in regional tourism which is likely to occur when the coronavirus restrictions are eased."
“It’s hard to see international travel returning any time soon and there will be renewed interest in regions like Gippsland.
“We need to take this opportunity to showcase Gippsland as a great place to live, work and visit with strategic investment in facilities which complement our natural advantages.”
Bicycle Networks supports this initiative. We ask that you write to Darren Chester (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let him know how important rail trails are to you and thank him for the backing he is giving to this funding bid.
This article was made possible by the support of Bicycle Network's members who enable us to make bike riding better in Australia.