The Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing is described as “a mid-distance hiking experience through the unique and captivating Australian alpine environment”. There are plans to re-route it to make it a 56 kilometre trip and a Draft Master Plan has been released. Public comment is welcome before December 19.

Parks Victoria says “the walk will be supplemented with high quality accommodation options and interpretation that enable a range of visitors to fully immerse themselves in the beauty and stories of Victoria’s High Country”.

While many people walk between Falls Creek and Hotham each year and have done for decades (and many ski/ snow shoe in winter), the proposal to turn it into an ‘iconic’ walk is relatively recent. The Alpine Crossing was opened a few years ago and currently goes across the High Plains and is supported with signage and camping platforms, which need to be booked.

The current proposal is for the walk to detour westwards on the High Plains to Tawonga Huts then to the West Kiewa Valley and climb to Mt Feathertop rather than following the more direct and traditional route through Cobungra Gap (background available here).

IMGP6684It also includes provision of privately run accommodation for walkers who don’t want to camp. This is similar to the situation in some Tasmanian national parks where private developments have been allowed parallel to traditional walking activity (eg along the Overland Track). The whole proposal is very expensive (estimated at being about $13.5 million to build new trails and upgrade existing ones, and $8.9 million to build accommodation). There is no plan as yet about where these funds will come from. A number of possible business models are suggested, including one where Parks Victoria builds and manages the accommodation.

It is proposed that new lodging options be developed near the existing Tawonga Huts, in the West Kiewa Valley and on Diamantina Spur. There are also plans to consider the re develop of other, older buildings at the Rover Chalet on the High Plains and at the Red Robin mine. The guidelines around the development of new accommodation is still being considered (it is covered from p70) however it is anticipated they will each hold 14 people. They will be leased to private interests to run. The outline for the development at Tawonga Huts is for 7 separate cabins, with a communal eating area.

The development of “comfort in nature” accommodation is based on the argument that there have been shifts in consumer preferences from “traditional independent multi-day bushwalking trips to a greater demand for soft adventure, comfort and security offered by commercial operators. With a growing number of visitors, particularly from China, India and Indonesia, there is a strong need to conserve national parks while enhancing the visitor experience within them to increase yield for local and regional economies”.

Feathertop from the Bogong High Plains.
Feathertop from the Bogong High Plains.

In terms of tent based camping, the Plan proposes establishing platforms at a number of new sites. “Designated campsites will be provided … at all overnight nodes. Dispersed camping will be prohibited within 500m of the trail. All camping facilities will require a booking and fee, open to licensed tour operators (LTOs), independent hikers or groups”.

Draft Plan open for comment

The fact that there are attempts to get more people out into these mountains is a good thing. Having a marketed and ‘branded’ track certainly helps to get more people out there. Personally I wonder about whether we really need a well-built trail up the Diamantina Spur, which is currently a relatively little used access route to Feathertop (we already have a range of well-built trails accessing the mountain).

In terms of environmental sustainability, we should not be proposing new activities with a high environmental impact. The accommodation will require access by road to allow food, drink and other supplies to be brought in. Most of the proposed sites are close to road access (or require upgrade of existing tracks). However the Diamantina proposal will require a helicopter to bring supplies in.

But the key question here is whether we want to encourage further private development within national parks. The Victorian National Parks Association has expressed concerns about the proposal and says it is “strongly linked to earlier pushes for private developments in parks”.

There is now a Draft Master Plan which has been released by Parks Victoria for comment.

You can provide comments on the Plan before December 19. Details here, where you will find a submission form. There are also info sessions being held, in Melbourne and Bright.

There is a raging debate in the Backcountry Forum about the proposal.