The New South Wales government has released its 40-year plan to turn the Snowy Mountains into a ‘year-round tourist destination’. The draft Special Activation Precinct plan outlines options for future growth in and around Jindabyne.

The public is encouraged to submit feedback on the draft plan by mid-August. Amendments to the Kosciuszko National Park Plan of Management have also been released for public feedback. This proposes substantial new developments within the Kosciuszko National Park. It is also open for public comment.

The Special Activation Precinct plan

The NSW government says that ‘the master plan provides a 40-year roadmap to make the Snowy region even better with a focus on year-round alpine tourism, a revitalised Jindabyne town centre and foreshore, innovative transport solutions, more accommodation for locals and tourists, a sport and education precinct, and a world class mountain bike and adventure park’.

The plan forms part of a vision to increase the number of visitors to the region throughout the year to ‘offset the impacts of climate change’. Climate change will make winter snow less reliable and hence have impacts on visitation to ski resorts.

Submissions close 23 August 2021

You can find details of the plan and make comments here.

If you’re short for time, you can make a submission to both processes via this form (this campaign is run by the Save Kosci campaign group).

The Friends of the Earth submission to the SAP can be found here: FoEA for SAP 2021.

Kosciuszko National Park Plan of Management

Parks and reserves established under the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 are required to have a plan of management. Once the plan is adopted, no management operations can be undertaken in the park unless they are consistent with the plan.

Amendments to the Kosciuszko National Park Plan of Management have been published for public feedback, which set out the ‘desired changes’ to the area over the next 40 years.

The Parks Service says that:

‘Changes are proposed to the Kosciuszko National Park Plan of Management to better manage and service park visitation. A plan of management review has found that park visitation has more than doubled since the plan was adopted in 2006. This places pressure on management to both provide opportunities for visitors to experience the park and protect its environment from the potential impacts of increased visitation’.

This amendment proposes to enable the core elements of the Snowy Mountains Special Activation Precinct (SAP) and adjust parkwide policy on built accommodation.

“[It] seeks to address the extreme seasonality of the Snowy Mountains region by promoting summer and year-round visitation,” the draft management plan said.

“An increase in year-round offerings in the park would also counterbalance the anticipated medium-term decline in snow-based recreation due to climate change.”

The proposed amendments will

  • alter the alpine resort accommodation policy, including an increase in the maximum occupancy permitted in the resorts
  • enable ‘limited additional accommodation’ to be developed at identified non-resort accommodation nodes within the park
  • enable additional camping options with the precinct.

The plan notes that park visitation has more than doubled since the plan was adopted in 2006, and there is demand for an increase in the diversity of visitor experiences offered in the park. Hence the proposal for additional accommodation options.

Accommodation – new footprint

Outside of the major alpine resorts, accommodation is currently allowed at specified locations such as the minor resorts of Kosciusko Mountain Retreat, Ski Rider Motel and Sponars Chalet, Currango Homestead, and other locations.

Under the draft changes to the Kosciuszko plan, there would be new cabins or ‘glamping’ options built at Island Bend, Guthega and Creel Bay and new camping areas established within the park. At Island Bend, already a very popular year-round camping spot, there would be a ‘new accommodation node and supporting visitor services zone’. This will include powered sites, supported by camping facilities such as camp kitchens, hot showers and flushing toilets.

The proposed changes would represent a significant increase in infrastructure in the park.

Additionally, extra beds are planned for Currango Homestead and Yarrangobilly. A Yarrangobilly Caves precinct plan will be developed to enable tourism development there. And Kiandra is listed as a place where accommodation will be allowed, within the ‘Major Road Corridor’.

A ‘Fishing lodge style accommodation’ is proposed for the Thredbo Ranger Station, as well as campground and commercial services.

The plan recommends that the amendment continues to prevent ‘ribbon development’ along the major road corridors into the resorts.

The following bed numbers are proposed:

  • Camp Hudson – 32 beds
  • Cotterills Cottage – 9 beds
  • Currango Homestead precinct –58 beds
  • Island Bend – 100 beds
  • Kiandra – 50 beds
  • Kosciusko Mountain Retreat – 122 beds
  • Ski Rider Motel – 339 beds
  • Sponars Chalet – 222 beds
  • Thredbo Ranger Station – 100 beds
  • Waste Point (Creel Bay) – 325 beds
  • Yarrangobilly Caves precinct – 106 beds

Accommodation – expansion of existing resorts

The overnight capacity of the resorts would also increase by several thousand beds.

In a worrying move, the plan suggests the insertion of wording about a ‘fast-track planning framework’, which is related to the SAP.  The alpine resorts already have a significant footprint within the park, with a range of documented issues (for instance management of sewerage). Any further development must be considered carefully, not ‘fast tracked’.

In resort areas within the Perisher Management Unit (Perisher Valley, Smiggin Holes, Guthega, Blue Cow) ‘year-round village development, infill and commercial accommodation opportunities’ will be allowed.

Bed numbers

Existing plan New plan
Perisher Range Management Unit 4952 6385
Thredbo Management Unit 4820 6444
Charlotte Pass Management Unit 611 845
Selwyn Management Unit 50 50
TOTAL Must not exceed 10,433 Must not exceed 14,567

The amendment recommends removing Cabramurra as a location for potential commercial accommodation development. Yet this area, in a lower altitude could potentially see an increase in bed size with more limited impacts than equivalent expansion in the sub alpine zone. The plan proposes the continuation of the Ski Rider Motel beyond 2025, which makes sense given the motel infrastructure already exists.

It proposes a camping area at Guthega village.

It notes that there could be an ‘upgrade and expansion of snow making and lifting facilities’ at Charlottes Pass. On a more positive note, the Lessee will need to contribute to Mountain Pygmy Possum habitat recovery and other rehabilitation projects reflective of the unique environment and threatened entities within and adjoining the Management Unit.

Increasing impacts in ‘backcountry’ and remote zones

This review is clearly an attempt to facilitate larger numbers of people into the Main Range area, which is already pressured by summer and winter use. For instance, the amendment about Tourism and Recreation recommends the inclusion of the following text:

‘So too is the size and undeveloped nature of the park, which offers many opportunities for [NEW TEXT: group activities] as well as solitude and self-reliant and adventurous recreation’. Clearly, more groups will equal less opportunities for ‘solitude and self-reliant’ recreation.

The summit trail is already incredibly busy in summer months. The plan recommends that ‘A change is proposed to allow commercial vehicle support on the Summit Trail for multi-day walkers of the Snowies Iconic Walk’. This does come with a caveat: ‘(early morning only, maximum of one commercial operator each day with a maximum 20 people and two vehicles)’.

Other impacts

The existing plan says:

The landing of powered aircraft in the park for recreational purposes is usually incompatible with the recreational experiences sought by on-ground visitors. For this reason, such landings are generally prohibited.

However, so called ‘commuting’ helicopter flights would be allowed to and from Charlotte Pass, Thredbo and Perisher Village. The natural environment of the Snowy Mountains are at grave risk from climate change. Why would government approve greenhouse gas intensive tourism into the park? Creating new sources of emissions for no tangible outcome in terms of sustainability of the park and economy of existing resorts is at odds with state government commitments to reduce emissions.

Additionally, a significant part of the growth in visitor numbers to the park involved people seeking nature based recreation – walking, trail running, bike riding, cross country and backcountry skiing, and so on. Noise from the helicopters will negatively impact on the nature experience of other park users.

The proposal to introduce helicopter flights should be refused.

Climate change

The plan provides an updated assessment of the likely impacts of climate change:

The potential implications of climate change on snow cover, depth and duration may severely affect the recreational values of the resorts. The models produced as part of the NSW/ACT Regional Climate Modelling (NARCLiM) project predict an increase in mean maximum temperatures in the near (2030) and far future (2070) across all seasons, large decreases in the number of nights suitable for snowmaking (below -2oC), increases in mean minimum temperatures, more dry days with large reductions in precipitation especially in winter and spring, and significant reductions in natural snowfall. These effects would be hardest and earliest felt at lower elevations.

Climate changes means continual stress on our very small alpine zones. Yet this amendment proposes intensifying the impact of human activity on this fragile ecosystem. If the government insists on pursuing further expansion of accommodation options and other facilities, it should rule out further expansion in the sub alpine and alpine zones and instead focus on areas outside these zones.

Comments can be submitted until August 23.

Check here for details on the plan and how to provide feedback.

Making a comment

The Snowy Mountains are already in danger of being ‘loved to death’ by commercial development and huge visitor numbers. It is also threatened by more frequent and intense fire seasons and invasive animals and plants, such as feral horses.

We will add responses from key conservation groups here shortly, to help you in preparing your comments.

Check this story from the ABC with additional detail on both plans here. This coverage includes details on housing shortages in the Jindabyne area, another huge issue for the region.