Yesterday VCC/CliffCare representatives – Tracey Skinner (Access & Environment Officer), Philipp Hammes (VCC Vice President) and myself (Paula Toal, VCC President) – met with Simon Talbot and other Parks Victoria (PV) staff. The meeting was positive overall. PV outlined the consultative process for the development of the new Grampians National Park management plan which will have representation of the climbing community through a Stakeholder Reference Group (SRG) to facilitate the needs and rights of climbers to be protected in the new management plan and secure the legitimacy of climbing in the Grampians.
PV and the Grampians Access Working Group (GAWG is a working group of VCC/CliffCare) have been analysing spatial data to provide clarity as to which crags currently sit within Special Protection Areas (SPA) so that the climbing community has accurate information. The updated map and list of crags will be available soon, as we are only awaiting the PV analyst’s final cross-referencing of the data.
The VCC has taken legal steps to clarify the reasons for the existing bans as a means to understand on what legitimate and ethical basis we could seek to renegotiate access. We are anticipating the formal response to that legal request from Parks Victoria by the end of this week and PV confirmed that response is on track to meet that deadline.
We communicated to PV that we believe the essential next steps include that we have the opportunity to engage with them and Traditional Owners to understand and discuss the reasons for the SPAs and negotiate changes to those boundaries that allow access to our important world-class climbing areas.
We also communicated the negative impact the SPA restrictions are having on visitation to the Grampians and crowding at open crags. We particularly highlighted that the loss of many more moderate grade climbing areas is particularly difficult. We spoke at some length about Summerday Valley and PV acknowledged the confusion about this area and asked for us to leave this issue with them for immediate internal consideration. We will follow up on next steps in this regard.
We agreed with PV to commence development of a joint communication strategy to ensure correct representation of the collaboration between the climbing community and PV and address the negative impressions that have been made by the reports in the mainstream media. Simon Talbot also advised that PV plans to disengage with the mainstream media to prevent further confusion and misrepresentation.
PV also shared an update on its activities including the three compliance weekends in the Grampians where rangers were brought in from across the state to undertake compliance activities in the park. PV indicated it spoke with more than 700 individuals and identified 67 offences, only a handful of which were attributed to climbers. The offences attributed to climbers included driving around a locked management gate, driving off track, improper disposal of toilet paper, removing vegetation, climbing in a SPA and an instance where three individuals were found climbing in one of the eight key focus sites which can attract a fine. PV indicated that as yet they have not issued any fines however they are still considering how best to deal with the specific infringement related to the focus sites.
The VCC feels strongly that the best way forward is through a positive collaboration with Parks Victoria and the Traditional Owners. A respectful dialogue between all parties will have the best outlook regarding climbing access in Victoria.
The VCC/Cliffcare/GAWG will continue to update the climbing community about further progress and has commenced a process to engage with other clubs and representatives of the climbing community to develop an effective structure to support representation on the Grampians National Park management plan Stakeholder Reference Group. If you have ideas and suggestions, please let us know.