Graham Burgess, Illawarra Branch President, National Parks Association of NSW

NPA Illawarra has a rich history dating back around 37 years. In 2010 there was a turning point as most of the long-standing and hardworking branch executive decided to call it a day and hand over to some fresh faces. Over the last seven years or so the new executive has focused its efforts on being part of the community conversation about protecting nature in our region. Most of our work relates to the impact of urban development on the Illawarra Escarpment and other bushland on our quite narrow coastal stip. With this focus our involvement on Wollongong Council’s community reference groups is an important feature and we have positions on two of these groups.

Most recently we have increased our interest in the environmental status of Lake Illawarra and associated wetlands. We are gearing up to write a submission on the Draft Coastal Zone Management Plan for the lake which is due to be published this year. We are also supporting the Illawarra Birders Club with their efforts in advocating for the establishment of a significant wetland sanctuary on the old Tallawarra power station ash pond site. NPA has a representative on the Tallawarra Community Liaison Group and we are keen to combine this work with any opportunities to retain and improve the green biodiversity corridor between Tallawarra and west to the escarpment taking in the West Dapto and Calderwood urban development areas.

The branch continues to make a strong contribution to the NPA NSW bushwalking program. Our local leaders are very enthusiastic but new leaders are always welcome, so, if any branch members can step forward to lead activities please do so. Our ongoing association with local, large, social media-based group, Bushwalk the ’Gong, continues to provide an opportunity to interface with a broader audience than just our membership in connecting people with nature in our region.

We also continue to advocate for completion of the long awaited long distance walking track along the Illawarra Escarpment to connect the Royal National Park and the southern Illawarra with Morton National Park. This track has been discussed since the 1980s but has not yet been successful in securing adequate funding to complete the project.

By far the biggest issue the branch presently faces is what may happen at Mt Keira and nearby with the possible development of a mountain bike park and other proposed possibly high environmental impact recreational activities. We are active in the public discussion on this and will certainly be continuing to make submissions to seek a balance between community expectation and environmentally sensitive outcomes.