A 118km “Adventure Trail” around Great Lake could see an economic boost for the gateway towns of the Central Highlands, with potentially thousands of walkers and cyclists attracted to the hydro and fishing lake each year.
Proposed by Great Lake Hotel owner James Johns, the multi-million dollar eco-tourism venture is aimed at both bush walkers and cyclists and would require a 1.5m-1.8m gravel boardwalk and bridged trail circumnavigating the state’s third largest freshwater lake. To be built on Hydro Tasmania reserve land, there would be access points and toilet amenities built every 20kms around the track. A trail head with parking, shelters and barbecue facilities is being considered for the western shore of Swan Bay and would include overnight free camping and camper spots and an amenities building with showers.
With increased accessibility to the lake Mr Johns expects visitor numbers to Miena to increase significantly. “We’re currently working directly with Hydro Tasmania to progress the assessment requirements for the project which involves detailed consideration of environmental, cultural and social issues,” he said.
In an area that has remained virtually unchanged since the hotel was built in its original location more than 100 years ago and the Miena Dam was built in 1967, the thought of any kind of development does not sit well with some of the local residents and shack owners. Anti-bike trail signs have been erected along roadsides, and administrators of the local community Facebook page have threatened to close down the forum as a keyboard war rages. Full-time shack owner Rob Wilkinson want their privacy and views unchanged and the natural environment untouched.
“When I first heard about the proposal my reaction was surprise, then shock, then disappointment,” he said. “I don’t think this is what this area needs – people come here to get away from it all, away from people and heavy tourism.”
Mr Wilkinson is on the recently formed Friends of Great Lake committee, and it’s his opinion that 90 per cent of local shack owners and residents are against the proposal. Permanent residents Ross Nicholas, Phil Tobin and Craig Evans have all chosen to live in the secluded, rugged environment for different reasons – including to fish, to cope with mental health issues, to hunt and to lead a life away from the crowds. “Some places are just best left alone,” Mr Evans said simply. “Not just for the people but for the wildlife too.
Since the road was sealed increased traffic movements have resulted in more roadkill – I pulled eight dead devils off the road one month. “More people up here can only increase those numbers.” Mr Johns, who has been posting information and updates on the project’s website since its inception said that further updates will be provided as the assessment process progresses. “But it is important to keep in mind the project is still in its relatively early stages and there will be ample opportunities for the community to have a say,” he said.
Mr Johns, who has owned the hotel for three years, said: “From a commercial perspective we wanted to establish a hospitality venue that attracted adventure seekers that were looking to participate in established past times – fishing, bushwalking, hunting – and because it’s already part of the Tasmanian Trail, that includes cycling and horse riding.
“Plans were drawn up for a cycling track around the lake 30 years ago, it’s not a new idea. “It’s not about making money, but if we ended up walking away in 10 years’ time our legacy will be establishing an internationally recognised area for responsible ecological activity and while the hotel might benefit from more visitors, so will every other business up here, including businesses that haven’t even been established yet.”
In September, Mr Johns posted an open letter to all residents of the Central Highlands including the following points:
• The proponents are working with both the State and Federal Governments on a funding model under specific regional development and tourism grant structures.
• The trail is to be a free-for-use public asset with no business or entity receiving a direct financial benefit from its use. The trail will be the property of the Central Highlands and Tasmanian people.
• The proponents will receive no advantage over any other business or individual in the increased visitation to the area or use of the trail.
• The proponents have agreed to enter into an agreement with Hydro Tasmania as to the reasonable maintenance of the trail and facilities.
• No part of the trail enters the World Heritage Area.
Preferred trail builder World Trail principal Glenn Jacobs told Mr Johns that the six criteria needed to ensure the project was successful were all met by the Adventure Trail plans. Peter and Jen Booth are shack owners and are worried that some locals who, like them, are for the adventure trail, are too scared to voice their opinion because it’s such a close-knit community. “We would both love to use the track if it’s built,” Mrs Booth said. “There’s a large amount of 4WD tracks around the lake now and no doubt it will be using some of those – people are already moving around the lake and this will make it easier – including for families and people with disabilities.”
However, Friends of Great Lake member Josh Sutton said: “We want to prevent any future development that is detrimental to the current use of the area and we’ve listened to many concerns – the main ones being the proximity to shacks and permanent residences and the affect on the fragile environment and unique ecosystem.
“We are questioning whether this type of tourism venture can co-exist alongside hunting – there are 100 permits a year granted to hunters and their concern is will they be locked out of their traditional hunting areas, some of which are right on the border of where the trail is planned.”