GoSee attended a Parks Victoria workshop on the future management of bush camping in the Grampians National Park in Halls Gap Victoriathis month and joined a nuts and bolts look at this Australasian issue.
Here, provided by Parks Victoria and compiled by Sylvia van der Peet, Park Planner and Threatened Species Co-ordinator Grampians National Park is a close look at the challenges and opportunities which the Halls Gap workshop identified.
They stem from the growth of camping in all its forms as a major contributor to tourism in Australia and New Zealand.
What is a bush camp?
The Grampians National Park has significant cultural, natural and recreational values and is the only National Park in Victoria to have National Heritage Listing.
It is a concern that there is a high expectation in the Grampians to bush camp, where in other much older National Parks such as Wilsons Prom and Mount Buffalo it is considered as unacceptable practice.
It has become obvious from these and previous discussions that there isnt a one size fits all bush camp site, but that different groups had different needs.
For example Lower Glenelg National Park where some camp sites have drive-in access, while others are hiker or canoe access only. One of Park Victoria's challenges is to try and accommodate both large groups and the spontaneous camper.
Parks Victoria believes it probably needs to allocate or categorise camp sites for specific uses or specific groups.
Small informal bush camp sites for climbers and 4WDers
Larger bush camp sites for school groups and other large groups
Overnight bush camp sites for hikers and bushwalkers.
Access/control/enforcement it is easier for Parks Victoria to patrol these kind of camp sites at somewhere likeVictoria's Wilsons Prom. or Mt Buffalo where there is generally only one point of access to the park, unlike the Grampians with its multiple access points.
Feedback from Grampians Bush Camping Workshop
Key issues / challenges
When the Parks Victoria state-wide booking system Parkstay is introduced next year it may cover bush camp sites too. There is some concern that this might result in a lack of spontaneity, and difficulty in organising trips beforehand. Many bush camp users are used to just turning up and picking a site.
Effective toilets Borough Huts campsite Grampians NP
The benefits of booking include being able to find out when a particular area is busy / booked out, and it will assist with planning for trips and smoothing out demand.
Many schools are frustrated by turning up at a site (having booked) only to findfive other groups who havent booked. This also has implications for activities such as climbing at Summerday Valley.
Because Parks Victoria do not have a formal booking system Brambuk Information centre cant stop additional schools from coming even if they know the area is already heavily used.
Flexi fees if introduced might encourage visitation outside peak holiday periods.
Editor's Note: GoSee believes this approach has the potential to spread the currently constricted peak caravan and holiday park seasons across a more equitable timeframe for all concerned.
GoSeeAustralia made the comment that people are increasingly expecting to have to book, and in fact want to be able to book.
The question was also raised as to whether or not the costs of caravan parks and the unavailability of sites were driving more people to bush camping. Perhaps more campgrounds and caravan parks are needed to meet the increase in demand?
Increased visitation and large groups
There are an increasing number of motor homes, camper trailers and camper vans (e.g. Wicked campers) both with and without toilet facilities visiting the Grampians.
A Parks Victoria official firepit Grampians NP
For schools booking for large numbers can be a challenge.
School groups or other large groups who dont book can cause problems for other visitors.
School groups sometimes prefer school group only areas away from the general public ( to avoid noise, alcohol and bad behaviour etc.)
Licensed Tour Operators have to comply with special terms and conditions whereas unauthorised school groups dont.
Schools that do the right thing are frustrated by those who dont.
While schools like Trinity Grammar provide their own toilet facilities and Bindaree take out their own waste there are increasing numbers who bury their waste (or not).
Is this viable in the long term given the increased usage of bush camp sites?
There are safety issues with not knowing where school groups are especially during the fire season and there is heavy demand on sites in spring and autumn.
Editors Note: Halls Gap police raised concerns that some areas are accessed by one-way tracks which could pose a safety issue in times of crisis.
Small informal bush camp sites
These are used by small informal groups who only need enough space to erect a two-man tent. These people generally are not interested in facilities and would prefer that the sites were kept natural looking with sensitive landscaping e.g. use of rocks to delineate boundaries rather than fences or barriers.
Parks Victoria believes it needs to take care that these small informal sites dont or cant grow into larger more formal bush camp sites.
Campsite vehicle access is controlled by posts
Four wheel drivers may have a tent on top of a vehicle and so a flat level space would be preferred.
These campers generally have cooking gear in the back of their vehicle and so no need for fireplaces. Small groups of 1-5 vehicles generally do not expect facilities and bury their waste.
Larger 4WD groups on a club trip would tend to use a designated campground with some facilities as a base camp and plan day trips out from there.
Larger bush camp sites
These are used by larger groups, sometimes just a group of friends but at many other times by school groups of between 12 and 30 students.
Schools or outdoor education companies often have five groups of 14 students at the one time and so are looking for a number of camp sites closer together that they can book in advance, and lock into the school timetable.
These larger groups are generally looking for close proximity to a number of activities e.g. rock climbing, hiking, bike riding, preferably where transport is not required to get to that activity e.g. old Hollow Mountain campground.
Rainwater harvested for facilities Grampians NP
Toilet facilities and fireplaces might be more appropriate for these larger bush camps to reduce the impact on the surrounding environment.
Although some schools e.g. Trinity Grammar do provide their own toilet facilities and Bindaree take out their waste.
But a facility in Halls Gap or somewhere similar for dropping off waste rather than taking it back to Melbourne would be well received.
Overnight (Hikers) bush camp sites
Generally these sites will be able to accommodate groups of up to 24 people (12 sites for 2 man tents) and will have toilet facilities.
There will be a need to book for these bush camp sites as they will be located on overnight walks or on legs of the proposed Grampians long distance walk.
Feedback from the group on what they would and wouldnt like considered in the management of bush camps:
Preference not to:
Charge fees for small informal bush camps.
Introduce the need to book small informal bush camps.
Provide facilities for small informal bush camps.
Promote small informal bush camps on the internet.
Consider introducing a Parks Pass rather than individual fee payment.
Editor's Note: It was suggested that many committednature loverswould be prepared to pay foran annual Park Pass as a matter of personal contribution to the protection of the environment.
Opinion was divided as to whether any fees paid should come back to the park in which the fees were charged or go to poorer/less visited Parks.
Provide clear guidelines re fire, waster, water etc. to all organisations and to the general public.
Provide out of hours random checks to help enforce any guidelines/regulations.
Editor's Note it is generally known that if free campers arrive after 4pm and leave before 10am they avoid rangers and thereforeoften neverpay for the Parks Victoria services they enjoy.
Add an environmental section to the Victorian Outdoor Education guidelines?
Show leadership in waste management.
Consider that some bush camps could have multi-use e.g. climbers at the weekend and school groups during the week.
Look at the CALM ( Former Conservation and Land Management) model used in Western Australia. Western Australia and Tasmania are notable for their excellent Park Passes.
Involve user groups in changes.
Provide stimulus / reward for volunteers.
Grampians ramparts frame Brambuk NP and Cultural Centre experience Halls Gap
Fire and water part of caring for country Halls Gap
Graham Parks of Parks Victoria opens Halls Gap campsite seminar
Original thought produced this campsite bucket shower
Picnic camp bushwalk drive Victoria's Grampians NP
Rhododendrons mark Borough Huts links to 1870's
Schools and climbers talk about their campsite needs
Sylvia van der Peet talks about campsite management challenges
Shower and toilets Grampians NP campsite
Tables Parks Vic fireplace and formed campsite
The GoSee Captiva ready to camp Grampians NP
Typical well formed generous campsite Grampians NP