An ambitious plan to create a 100 kilometre walking track between Forster and Hawks Nest has been put on the backburner due to lack of funding and support from one of its major stakeholders.
Based on similar projects throughout Europe and New Zealand, the proposed Great Lakes Walk and Aquatic Trail would include both coastal and hinterland walking and estuary kayaking experiences, along with a cultural component offered by members of the Worimi community.
Winding through both council, Crown, National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and private lands, establishment costs were estimated to come in at just over $5 million in addition to $3.368M maintenance costs over a 20 year period or $168,407/pa.
While the project would utilise existing trails, the establishment of some additional tracks also would be required.
However, key stakeholder, NPWS raised concerns over ongoing maintenance and replacement costs.
Reporting to councillors, growth, economic development and tourism manager, Deb Tuckerman said in order to be successful the project would require a partnership approach between both local and State governments, the private sector and community.
"Council staff have acknowledged the concerns of NPWS and are not able to progress the project without the support of NPWS as a key stakeholder," Ms Tuckerman said.
The report also identified that council did not have the resources to appoint a project officer, while opportunities to attract government and private funding could not be explored without confirmation of support from NPWS.
We have to get on the front foot and aggressively push this forward in the interest of the community.- Peter Epov
MidCoast Council liveable communities director, Paul De Szell said NPWS did not support the proposed walk.
"After the feasibility study NPWS didn't support this."
A recommendation not to proceed further was supported by Karen Hutchinson.
"I move the recommendation with a heavy heart because I know a lot of work has gone into this project," Cr Hutchinson said.
Council launched the Great Lakes Walk and Aquatic Trail feasibility study and master plan and draft investment prospectus in 2018.
However, Len Roberts asked for the matter to be noted, and council write to local (State and Federal) members advising this was a highly important matter, while deputy mayor, Claire Pontin asked for the matter to be 'workshopped' in 2022 to identify more feasible options and lower costs.
Cr Roberts said NPWS was not maintaining existing tracks, and claimed the department wanted to lock-up parks to the public.
"This is an absolute slap in the face to what council and our tourism providers have done," Cr Roberts said.
"Now more than ever we are dependent on local tourism," Cr Pontin said.
"We need to keep this issue alive."
Cr Pontin said bushwalkers didn't want paved stone steps or glamping campsites.
"You don't need to support overnight bushwalkers with high tech facilities."
Cr Peter Epov said the project had to be taken to the 'next level' after council had already contributed $200,000 to the program.
"I agree, we don't want gold plated walking trails; walkers like a challenge.
"This has been identified as a priority in our destination management plan.
"We have to get on the front foot and aggressively push this forward in the interest of the community."
There is funding out there, Kathryn Smith said.
"I would like to see a collaborative and partnership approach with our State member."
Brad Christensen was the only councillor against the motion.
"National parks is clearly against it; we have many more projects to focus on," he said.
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