National parks get $400 million boost to help recover from Black Summer bushfires

16 January 2021

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AUSTRALIA – The Berejiklian government plans to spend as much as $400 million on the state’s national parks over three years to boost access and aid the recovery from last summer’s devastating bushfires.

The funds include $257 million to be invested in new facilities, including more than 750 kilometres of new and upgraded walking tracks, upgrades to 33 campgrounds and 61 new and improved picnic areas.

“This is about making national parks accessible and available to everyone, regardless of age or ability,” Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean said during a visit to the Grand Canyon lookout near Blackheath in the Blue Mountains on Friday.

“It will not only improve the experience of those visiting our parks but it will create jobs, drive investment and draw tourism into our regions,” he said.

The additional funds include $97 million already earmarked for bushfire recovery work with another $40 million in economic stimulus to be added shortly, some of it from the federal government. “We’ll soon be advertising for another 160 staff,” National Parks and Wild Service deputy secretary Atticus Fleming said.

The fires caused the closure of more than 250 parks precincts and more than 150 had since re-opened, Mr Fleming said, adding national parks were home to 85 per cent of the state’s threatened species.

Examples of the bushfire restoration work include a tripling of the time allocated for the aerial shooting of feral animals such as wild pigs and goats to 1200 hours a year in 2020.

“Not only are our national parks good for the environment and our health and wellbeing, they are good for the health of the economy – injecting around $18 billion into the economy each year and supporting 74,000 direct and indirect jobs,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

Mr Kean said people were expected to make more than 18.5 million visits to NSW’s 900 national parks this summer, “providing a much-needed boost for nearby small businesses and nature-based tourism operators”. Mr Kean said.

The Blue Mountains National Park, itself home to some 350 kilometres of walking tracks, is among the areas recording a jump in visitor numbers, particularly after COVID-19 lockdown rules were eased in Sydney.

Helicopters, which were being used a year ago to drop remote-area firefighters during the height of the blaze, are now being used to winch in 600-kilogram loads of sandstone steps to rebuild damaged bushwalks. About 1500 loads have already been dropped.

Walks that are open include the popular 2-3 hour Grand Canyon walk near Blackheath. The path now draws as many as 200,000 visitors a year, prompting the NPWS to make it a one-way walk.

“It’s crazy,” Blue Mountains park operations director David Crust said. “The weekends are mayhem.”

The popularity comes despite a significant decline in tour buses with very few foreign tourists and most people avoiding public transport because of coronavirus concerns, Mr Crust said.

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