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Falcons Lookout Trail Improvements

Last December Glenn Tempest wrote a blog (Problems with Falcons Lookout and Ironbark Gorge Carpark) commenting on the awful state of the walkers/climbers trail into Falcons Lookout at Werribee Gorge State Park. This trail is one of the most heavily used in Victoria and can see anything up to 60 people use it a day. Since then Parks Victoria have gone some way to fixing the issue. The works were not quite finished when we were there on Sunday but there is already a welcome improvement. However, despite these works, using pine boards in this manner is only really a temporary measure. In a couple of years time the boards will have almost certainly collapsed and we will again be faced with the same issues of erosion and user safety. Glenn pointed out in his original blog that “it may be simpler, cheaper and quicker to realign this section of the trail down the spur 20m or so to the west, then cut it back to the point at where the original trail reaches the bottom of the gully.”. In the long term this is probably true, but Parks Victoria is cash-strapped (see Glenn Tempest’s Parks Victoria: Death by a Thousand Cuts) and probably can’t afford the cost of these works. Looks like we will have to put up with band-aid measures for a long time to come.

Update May 2013
Looks like Parks Victoria have recently added more timber to the steps. Once again an improvement.


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Tarilta Creek Gorge Burn. The Unanswered Questions.

A couple of weeks ago Glenn Tempest wrote a blog about the March 2012 DSE burn in Tarilta Creek Gorge. Friends of the Box-Ironbarks Forests (FOBIF) also posted a critical assessment of the DSE burning operations in the Upper Loddon State Forest here. We know that many of you who use our walking guides and who especially love the box-ironbark forests of the goldfields region will be appalled at what basically amounted to an act of environmental vandalism. The Tarilta Creek Gorge is a much loved walk and it is not expected to fully recover for many years.

FOBIF secretary Bernard Slattery wrote to DSE with a number of questions. Paul Bates, Forest Manager, Bendigo Forest Management Area responded to these questions and FOBIF posted his reply on the blog DSE Answers on Tarilta Fire. This makes for interesting reading, if only because it shows that DSE have no intention in providing genuine answers to these important questions.

Glenn Tempest, author of Daywalks Around Melbourne and the forthcoming Goldfields Walks visited Tarilta Creek Gorge only a week or so before the burn. There were perhaps half a dozen trees along Limestone Track that had been raked. According to Glenn none of the old yellow gums within the gorge had been raked.
Above are a couple of Glenn’s photos that were taken on that day as well as a selection of photos taken immediately after the burn (courtesy of Rob Simons, a local landholder of which a section of the Tarilta Creek runs through). These images clearly show just how much damage has been done and of the enormous amount of silt and topsoil now filling the creek.



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Parks Victoria: Death By a Thousand Cuts.

This Easter weekend some state and national parks are facing industrial action by Parks Victoria rangers belonging to the Community and Public Sector Union. Most likely this will involve the locking of gates to parks which have single points of entry. The union has been in ongoing enterprise bargaining negotiations with the Victorian Government, having stated that Parks Victoria staff have not had a pay rise in almost two years. The sticking point is that the Baillieu government is refusing to increase its offer of a 2.5 per cent annual pay rise, plus whatever trade-offs can be obtained via productivity improvements. What makes this all the more unpalatable to the rangers is that 48 executive officers in the Department of Sustainability and Environment (the department that overlooks Parks Victoria), have shared a windfall bonus of $655,000 for the last financial year. That is an average of $13,645 for each officer.

Interestingly, the Baillieu government has declared that they will have no hesitation to putting on non-unionised strike breakers’ to re-open the park gates to the public. Environment Minister Ryan Smith commented that “It’s extremely disappointing to hear that the unions are trying to lock Victorian families out of our parks this Easter weekend”.

On the surface this may appear to be a simple wage dispute, but in fact it’s just a symptom of a larger and much more serious disease. It’s no secret that Parks Victoria is suffering from chronic underfunding. Parks and reserves across Victoria are seeing the results of decades of government cut-backs. These funding cuts effect our parks and reserves in many ways. From the supply of basic amenities (such as toilet rolls), all the way to establishing and maintaining user facilities such as walking and mountain bike trails as well as creating new management and environmental plans for the future. Looking after our public spaces is, quite simply, a massive job and if it is to be done correctly it will require substantial government funding.

The Cathedral Range State Park (just outside Melbourne) is a good example of just how much things have changed. Fifteen years ago there were three rangers looking after this very busy park (and the nearby small Buxton Gum Reserve). Over the intervening years the number of rangers have been reduced until today there is only one ranger visiting the park on two days a week. Other Parks, such as Mt Beckworth Scenic Reserve and Mt Alexander Regional Park are good examples of public lands that have been all but abandoned due to lack of funds.

Regular readers of this blog know that although I’m a big supporter of Parks Victoria I’m also very critical of the gradual disintegration of our parks and reserves. Many Parks Victoria rangers do an amazing job in increasingly difficult circumstances. One of my ranger friends commented that ‘productivity improvements’ was in fact government speak for ‘saving money’. For bushwalkers this usually means letting walking trails and signage vanish. Fewer trails and lower maintenance means less money spent. Projections indicate that Melbourne will have a population of 5 million by 2020. With increasing numbers of users visiting our parks the question we should be asking is how exactly are Parks Victoria supposed to do a good job with correspondingly less money to spend.

Over the Easter period the following parks may be closed. Before we start getting angry with the rangers who are closing these parks perhaps we should consider the much bigger picture.

1. Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens
2. Braeside Park
3. Buchan Caves Reserve
4. Cardinia Reservoir Park
5. Churchill National Park
6. Coolart Historic Area
7. Dandenong Valley Parklands
8. George Tindale Memorial Gardens
9. Lysterfield Park
10. Maribyrnong Valley Parklands
11. Maroondah Reservoir Park
12. Mount Buffalo National Park
13. National Rhododendron Garden
14. Organ Pipes National Park
15. Pirianda Gardens
16. Point Cook Coastal Park
17. Serendip Sanctuary
18. Silvan Reservoir Park
19. Tower Hill Reserve
20. Upper Yarra Reservoir Park
21. Werribee Gorge State Park
22. Wilsons Promontory National Park
23. Woodlands Historic Park
24. You Yangs Regional Park

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Mt Stapylton Loop Walk

I’d been planning to walk the Mt Stapylton Loop for the last year or so and it was only last week when I finally got the chance to do so. For anyone unfamiliar with the Grampians National Park, this 12.2km circuit walk traverses a series of exposed sandstone peaks and shallow valleys in the parks drier northern extremity. The Wimmera surrounds this rugged massif and it doesn’t take much imagination to visualise how, in the not too distant past, the sea once lapped right up to the cliffs and boulders.

I left the Stapylton Campground at about 8am. It was a little earlier than I’d planned but I hadn’t accounted for nature’s alarm clock; a few dozen screeching cockatoos flying over my tent at 6am. The trail passes through low scrub for about 15min before crossing Pohlner Road. There are great views of the Mount of Olives, a tower of ochre-coloured rock, which reminded me of a rather more sad and weary version of the Pharos at nearby Mt Arapiles. By the time I reached the top of the range the sun had risen high in the sky and I was sweating from the climb. Here the trail reached an intersection and I turned north, a gradual ascent leading up through low bush.

After an hour or so I reached a major trail junction. Here I met a group of walkers who had come up from Mt Zero Picnic Area and were sitting on the rocks trying to figure out which way to go. All of the trail signs were laying in the trees, having been pulled from the ground. Why anyone would want to do this is beyond me. I pointed them in the right direction and they happily set off towards Stapylton Campground. I on the other hand continued on up towards the top of Mt Stapylton. The trail weaved its way up the northern side of the rocks before sidling up to a rocky ridge. Here a metal sign indicated that walkers should only proceed in good weather. No problem today.

The final scramble to the top is easy but exposed. In wet or windy conditions I would seriously think twice before attempting the ascent. A couple of years ago my partner and I arrived on the summit as black storm clouds gathered and a hot wind gusted from the north. Our hair stood on end and we could feel the crackle of electricity in the air. Needless to say we retreated immediately, managing to reach the safety of the trees just as the heaven’s opened up and the rain came pouring down. This time I arrived on top in perfect conditions. Fluffy clouds billowed above me and a lone kestrel danced on the breeze.

Mt Stapylton is only 518m above-sea-level but its isolated rocky mass and commanding position makes it one of my favourite viewpoints in the Grampians. Off the the northwest I could see Mt Arapiles and its distinctive tiny neighbour, Mitre Peak, rising above a sea of wheat stubble. As I turned counter-clockwise I could make out the bluffs of the Black Range and, almost abutting it, the entire backbone of the Grampians National Park as it stretched, broken and twisted, south towards the coast.

After an hour dozing in the sun I reluctantly left the summit and started down. Back at the junction I continued along the trail towards Mt Zero Picnic Area. The walk descends long rocky ramps past Bird Rock and underneath Taipan Wall, a soaring bastion of overhanging red rock, before meandering through the Mt Stapylton Amphitheatre. At the Mt Zero Picnic Area turnoff I pushed on a little further to the top of Flat Rock. This short diversion allowed me to look back into the amphitheatre and view the half-moon escarpment as it started to reflect the late afternoon sun. The final 4.4km of sandy trail led me down from the amphitheatre and back along the range underneath the Mount of Olives to where I rejoined my footsteps from earlier in the day at Pohlner Road. By the time I arrived back at Stapylton Campground the sun was low in the western sky and I was low on energy. Definitely time to warm up in front of the camp-fire and refuel.

Check out my other blog on the Hollow Mountain / Mt Stapylton Circuit Walk and associated images on my SmugMug site here.

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Grampians Peaks Trail (Feb 2012 Update)

mt rosea
mt rosea
The lookout on top of Mt Rosea in the Grampians.

Just finished chatting with David Roberts, Ranger in Charge of the Grampians National Park. Regular readers may remember the piece we did here on the Grampians Peaks Trail in July 2010. The proposed walking trail was to link Mt Zero in the north to the town of Dunkeld in the south, covering a distance of approximately 150km. This was easily the most exciting new walking trail project to have been planned in Victoria since the completion of the Great Ocean Walk in 2005.   Unfortunately nature intervened with the January 2011 floods and many walkers feared that the initial $1.6 million in funding would be withdrawn or redirected elsewhere. Thankfully this was not to be the case. David said that the final alignment of the trail was happening right now and that he envisaged construction of the initial three-day walking loop (from Halls Gap, through the Wonderland Range, across Mt Rosea to Borough Huts Campground and back at Halls Gap) would begin within 3 months. Two hiker camps will be constructed along the way.

This really is great news for what will hopefully become one of Australia’s premier long distance walking trails. The Victorian Government have also approved another $1.4 million for the next stage of the trail through 2012 to 2014.

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Proposed Loddon River Walk

Loddon river Vaughan Springs
Loddon river
Loddon River and Vaughan Springs Spillway

We walked the Golden Gullies Walk from Vaughan Mineral Springs (near Castlemaine) on Sunday to recheck our original notes used in our popular Daywalks Around Melbourneguide. We also completed a GPS track of the walk, which we will add to our downloads page when the new The Goldfieldsguide is released this spring.

The Golden Gullies Walk is one of my personal favourites and I’ve done it at least half a dozen times. Unfortunately, the section linking Vaughan Mineral Springs with Central and Glenluce Springs is always under attack by weeds, the most invasive of which are thistles and blackberries (other major nasties include the willow, which is badly chocking up the river). Depending upon the season the water race which follows the river can be so overrun with blackberries that it isn’t actually possible to walk along it. It’s a real shame to see what should be one of the regions most beautiful and historic locations reduced to little more than a blackberry patch.

Loddon river Vaughan Springs
Water race and stone walling above the Loddon River.

So here’s my proposal.

A new walking trail to be constructed from Vaughan Mineral Springs along the south side of the river to opposite Glenluce Springs. A foot bridge could then be constructed across the Loddon River to provide access to Glenluce Springs. A walking trail would then run along the north side of the river past Central Springs to finish back at Vaughan Springs. The total distance of this proposed Loddon River Walk would be just 5km and would provide visitors to Vaughan Springs with potentially one of the most interesting and scenic walks in the entire Goldfields region. The walk would be graded easy andwould link three historically interesting mineral springs along the way. Much of the trail along the south side of the river is already in place with only minor relocations and repair work needed along the existing water race. On the north side of the river the trail between Central Springs and Vaughan Mineral Springs is also in place as it follows a 1km section of the Goldfields Track. The rest of the trail linking Glenluce Springs and Central Springs would need to be constructed along the river bank.

Lodden river chimney
Large chimney ruin on Sebastapol Creek.

To keep costs down the new bridge spanning the river could be built as a concrete causeway, similar to the one in Vaughan Springs. The bulk of the cost in constructing this walk would be in enacting a vigorous weed elimination schedule. Future maintenance of the trail could in a large part be handed over to the community (in cooperation with Parks Victoria).The advantages of such a trail are numerous. Currently Vaughan Mineral Springs is fairly run-down and is unfortunately looking sadder and sadder each year. The marketing of the Loddon River Walk could re-energise this once very popular destination with an increase in visitor numbers. Vaughan Mineral Springs could also become an important staging point for the adjoining Goldfields Track. Last and not least, the construction of a Loddon River Walk would be beneficial to the river and could become a showcase for its environmental health.

Loddon River tunnel
Old gold mine in Sailors Gully.


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Wildlife Friendly Fencing

Kangaroo hanging by its legs on a wire fence bordering the Brisbane Ranges National Park.

There are few sights more sickening than seeing a kangaroo or wallaby hanging from its hind legs in a wire fence. It’s a scene that I’ve witnessed too many times over the years. The poor animal has attempted to jump the fence and has caught its legs in-between the two top strands of wire and is left hanging, unable to free itself. It’s an ugly and very painful death, usually of shock, starvation or having been eaten alive by foxes or wild dogs. Deep scratches in the ground are the result of the roo clawing desperately with its front paws. On a couple of occasions I’ve even found the poor animal still alive, too close to death to be able to save them, but with a look of fear still in their eyes. Putting them out of their misery was an awful business.

Most of my readers, friends and family know how I feel about traditionally constructed wire fencing. I hate large open profile wiring (sometimes called deer and goat wiring). I also hate barbed wire (native North Americans used to call it ‘the devils rope’), which still accounts for many horrific injuries to our wildlife (kangaroos, possums, sugar gliders, flying foxes and many birds such as tawny frogmouths, kookaburras and owls). While some farmers and land managers use more wildlife friendly fence construction methods they’re unfortunately still in the minority.

Here are a few good links describing various wildlife friendly fencing projects. If you own a property with extensive fencing you should check them out. Wildlife friendly fencing will keep our native animals happy and will often be cheaper to construct and maintain.

Macedon Ranges Wildlife Network have a great page called Wildlife Friendly Fencing. This excellent site provides suggestions on ways you can protect wildlife from becoming entangled in your fencing.

Wildlife Friendly Fencing Project is based in Queensland and was kick-started via the Threatened Species Network of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The original project sought to develop educational resources, as well as achieve on-ground changes to traditional fences. It is an excellent resource for anyone considering the fencing of rural properties.

Wildlife Mountain also has a good page titled Barbed Wire Versus Native Animals.

Long Grass Nature Refuge describes the removal of barbed wire fencing on a 1200 acre property in SW Queensland.

Tolga Bat Hospital have a page describing barbed-wire injuries to bats and birds.

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Tarilta Creek Gorge

Michelle, Marriot and Greg in Tarilta Creek Gorge
Jumping for joy over Michelle's newly repaired 'gaffa' boots.
Leaf litter and quartz stones in Tarilta Creek.
Eucalypt leaves in Upper Loddon State Forest.
Marriot and Karen in Tarilta Creek Gorge.

Karen and I joined a few friends (Greg, Michelle and Marriot) on Saturday to walk the lovely Tarilta Creek Gorge just south of Mt Franklin in the Upper Loddon State Forest. I was keen to GPS the circuit for our forthcoming Goldfields guide and see what effect the recent bushfire (early January 2012) had on the park. The fire had started on nearby private property as a grassfire and had burned through some of the forest along Sawpit Gully Road. We left the car (parked on Porcupine Ridge Road) at about 2pm, which would normally be quite a late start, but on a daylight-saving mid-summers day it was going to be no problem at all. A southerly breeze kept the temperature down and there was barely a cloud in the sky.

Our first real issue was Michelle’s walking boots. Apparently she had not used them for some time and immediately after pulling them on the rubber soles decided to part company with the uppers. Greg’s skills with a roll of gaffa tape and five minutes later the problem was (at least temporarily) solved.

My original walk description in Daywalks Around Melbourne was still fairly accurate and it was apparent that the fire had only touched the edge of the state forest. Unfortunately some of the old 4WD tracks had been recently widened and ‘improved’ with the use of a bulldozer, which meant that some of the walking wasn’t quite as attractive as normal. There were also a few new dozer tracks constructed, which made was a bit confusing. I was definitely going to have to update the walk map. At one junction we even took a wrong turn, a mistake that cost us an extra 2.5km of walking. This just strengthened my view that all published walks need to be re-walked and checked on a regular basis.

Once we reached Tarilta Creek Gorge the nature of the walk changed completely. Suddenly we felt a million miles from anywhere. Understandably, for this time of year, the creek had stopped flowing and only a few small pools were left, providing a safe haven for the yabbies, frogs and common galaxias (native fish). The river flats that only a couple of months ago were lush green were now thigh-deep in dry golden grass. Swamp wallabies watched us from the rocky bluffs, eastern grey kangaroos eyed us suspiciously and colourful eastern rosellas darted between the trees.

About six years ago Greg and I ran through this tiny gorge (again checking the walk details) and there had been little sign of other visitations. This time around we were surprised to find that a fairly good walking trail had been established. Since the release of Daywalks Around Melbourne(the second edition was published in 2005) this walk had obviously become much more popular. The walking trail definitely makes negotiating the gorge a whole lot easier. Someone, perhaps a walking club or commercial group, have even inserted small posts along the way to indicate the various creek crossings.

We finished the walk by following the off-trail variation linking Limestone Track with Porcupine Ridge Road. This really is the best way to complete this walk but you need to be reasonably confident in your off-trail navigation skills. We got back to the car at about 6.30pm and half an hour later we were drinking pints at the Holgate Brewhouse in Woodend. If you haven’t already done this walk then definitely put it on your list. My recommendations would be to do it in winter or spring, plan on a picnic lunch and keep in mind that Tarilta Creek is prone to flooding, which would make the creek crossings much more difficult.





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Wild 127 – In the Footsteps of the Father of National Parks

The new edition of Wild magazine (issue 127) has just arrived on the shelves and features one of Glenn’s images that he took while walking the 24-day John Muir Trail a few months ago. Glenn also wrote a six page article on the walk called In the Footsteps of the Father of National Parks.

Wild have a short teaser on their website here. If you are keen to check out Glenn’s photos of the John Muir Trail you can see them here and here.

And don’t forget, if you like what we are doing here at Open Spaces, please visit our Open Spaces Facebook page and like us.

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Melbourne’s Western Gorges On Sale Now

Great news. Our newest title, Melbourne’s Western Gorges, arrived in our warehouse this morning and will be in the shops from tomorrow. Authored by Glenn Tempest, this is the first in a new A5 series of walking guides to regional areas around Victoria. Melbourne’s Western Gorges covers 20 walks in the Brisbane Ranges National Park, and Werribee Gorge and Lerderderg State Parks. Produced in full colour with 96 pages it retails for just 19.95. Like our last book, Daywalks Around Victoria, this guide also features free GPS downloads as well as regular updates. Melbourne’s Western Gorges is also available in our online bookshop.