I was very interested in the article in “Nature NSW” Spring Edition 2016 by Barry Tomkinson which promotes the concept of “Walking Tourism”. The concept is not new and it is not without a number of concerns. There is today a clear push from Government to expand tourism into our reserves and national parks estate wherever possible. The National Parks and Wildlife Act was established for the protection of nature. With the objective to make the reserve system “commercially” self-sufficient the value of nature protection has the potential to be downgraded, if not forgotten. 

From the outset, the national parks estate has been managed through the policies set out in the relevant Plans of Management (POM). The aim of the POM is to establish a balance between recreation and nature protection and where appropriate address issues of public safety.  As a legally binding instrument this should be guiding ventures such as that proposed in the article in “Nature NSW”. There is a growing trend for decisions to be made which don’t seem to be influenced by the POM’s or have concern about their legality. The issue is being aggravated where the local knowledge within NPWS regarding an area’s biological and cultural resources is declining.  Nature is therefore having less consideration than the NP and W Act intended.

There should be great concern from all of us who value nature protection over the commercial opportunism which appears to underlie the thrust of endurance adventure sports and the proposed “Walking Tourism” into our NP and reserve system. The consultative process for the development of the POM includes non-government organisations like NSW NPA and NCC working with the RAC’s and the NPWS Advisory Council. The contribution of NPA Park Management Committee has over the years involved a significant investment of time, energy and detailed knowledge of these natural areas. Overall this consultative process has mostly, successfully delivered a sound management framework. The trend towards greater emphasis on commercial opportunities without reference to the POM questions the rigour and legality of the POM process.

In the article the author states, “walking tourism has the potential to extend the peak season and smooth the influx over the entire year”, with a caution noting, “a need for the Government agencies to develop and implement robust policies to protect nature”. The robust policies to referred to are embodied within the POM’s.

The article is very pertinent to NPWS SCR. On at least two occasions in the SC Region MNP / Budawang Wilderness has been host to endurance events and we have witnessed POM’s swept aside without consideration of the impact of humans on nature, POM’s were intended to address. In doing so, put at risk “the unspoilt” Shoalhaven brand. The POM for MNP and the Budawangs Bushwalking and Camping Strategy both recognise the need for a more regulated approach to help ensure the amelioration of visitor patterns. The secrecy surrounding the recent Adventure Racing World Championship  questions the integrity of the event and its intent.

The article focuses on “Walking Tourism” routes along the coastal areas. It is unrealistic to assume in the fullness of time commercial opportunism would not bring pressures on NPWS to expand further afield. The recent “ARWC” endurance event shows this has already happened.

National Parks are today starved of an adequate workforce quota and a diminished base of cultural and scientific knowledge. Funding levels for much needed infrastructure eg, for track hardening and signage is constantly being tampered with.

The Shoalhaven Bushwalking Advisory Group have a clear right to have an input into the tourism consultative process but there is a responsibility to engage with the NPWS POM as the legal framework.

Unless the nature conservation values for which the National Park System was established for are respected, there is little to welcome the implementation of Shoalhaven’s plan to become a “Premier walking tourism destination”.

For your consideration.

Regards Bob Snedden