Many of you are probably aware that Parks Victoria have initiated sweeping rock climbing bans across the Grampians National Park in what are called Special Protection Areas (SPAs). At Open Spaces we have received a number of phone calls and emails asking whether these bans will effect bushwalkers who use safety ropes within SPAs. At least two of our Grampians walks in our Daywalks Around Victoria guidebook are directly affected. These walks are Stapylton Ampitheatre and The Fortress Caves. So we decided to write to Parks Victoria to seek clarification. Here is our letter (dated 27 May 2019):
To whom it may concern,
Open Spaces are currently in the process of writing an online update to the four Grampians bushwalks we describe in our popular Daywalks Around Victoria guidebook. This book has sold over 3000 copies and we have a responsibility to the groups, clubs and numerous independent walkers to attempt to clarify the somewhat confusing situation regarding the current Parks Victoria Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Two of our described walks (the Stapylton Amphitheatre, p44 and The Fortress Caves, p50) appear to be affected by the SPAs.
As you are no doubt aware the Stapylton Amphitheatre walk (the rocky ridge linking Hollow Mountain with Mt Stapylton) has long been regarded as one of the most iconic walks in the Grampians, it has been called the most spectacular walk in Victoria and sees hundreds of walkers a year (both teenagers and adults). The Echoes Block section of the Stapylton Amphitheatre walk (at the point where you leave the main walking trail to Hollow Mountain) appears to be within an SPA. It is our understanding that there is now a ban on the use of safety ropes within SPAs. Unfortunately many groups, clubs and independent walkers commonly use a safety rope to gain the top of the Echoes Block. Although the scrambling is easy, it is the safest way to bring walkers up. Safety ropes have been used on the Stapylton Amphitheatre walk for at least 50 years.
We are writing to you to inform you that we will be advising our readers that if they resort to using a safety rope within an SPA they face possible fines of over $1600. We will also inform our readers that a safety rope is therefore not allowed to be used on the initial Echoes Block section of the walk but is allowed to be used on the final steep northern scramble up to the summit of Mt Stapylton (as this section is not within an SPA).
The final scramble up to the top of the Fortress is also regularly completed by groups, clubs and independent walkers. Some of these people rely on the use of a safety rope to gain what is widely regarded as the best summit in the Grampians.
Question one. Is the Fortress within an SPA? It is difficult to tell as the official maps are lacking in detail. If it is within an SPA we will inform our readers that the use of a safety rope to gain the summit is no longer allowed.
Question two. Has Parks Victoria considered that a no safety rope policy (within SPAs) will influence some walkers to forgo the use of a safety rope (due to the over $1600 fine) and which will almost certainly result in future accidents?
We understand that both of these walks are not officially recognised by Parks Victoria but considering that they are historically important, have a long history with walkers and are popular (particularly the Stapylton Amphitheatre walk) it would be hard for Parks Victoria to pretend that they didn’t exist, and therefore absolve themselves of any future responsibility.
Looking forward to your response, Glenn Tempest, Open Spaces Publishing
Here is Park Victoria’s response (dated 11 July 2019):
Dear Mr Tempest
Safety Ropes in Special Protection Areas
Thank you for your email of the 28th May, 2019 to the Hon Lily D’Ambrosio MP, Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, regarding Special Protection Areas and the use of safety ropes while bushwalking in Grampians National Park. As this issue falls within Parks Victoria’s responsibilities, your correspondence has been forwarded to me for my consideration and response. I apologise for taking so long to get back to you.
While Parks Victoria prohibits rock climbing within Special Protection Areas (SPA’s) there is no prohibition on the use of safety ropes to assist with the activity of bushwalking either inside or outside of SPA’s. Safety ropes are permitted if necessary for safety while bush walking and National Parks regulations are complied with (i.e. no damage to rock or use of bolts, no trampling or damaging of vegetation). Parks Victoria would be interested in working with you to provide clarity to bushwalkers on what defines the use of safety ropes while bushwalking and how it can easily be distinguished from climbing.
To clarify your question regarding Echoes block and the Fortress: Echoes block is within an SPA. The area is of significant natural and cultural value, and is not on an authorized walking track. Although bush walking is permitted in this SPA, the nature of this activity is “off track” therefore, bush walkers are reminded to adhere to minimal impact guidelines (tread lightly, keep group sizes small, don’t damage vegetation) and comply with National Park regulations. Safety ropes if necessary, should only be used as described above and not be the primary means of access.
The Fortress walking track is an authorized walking track that sits within a remote and natural area, where the activity of bushwalking on and off track is permitted. However, the walking track itself has an SPA layer over its entirety for the protection of important natural values. The summit of the Fortress is not within this SPA as the authorized walking track does not continue to this area. Bush walking in this summit area will need to adhere to minimal impact guidelines and comply with National Park regulations. Care should be taken when walking off track to consider remoteness and difficult terrain.
As you may be aware, a new management plan is being developed for the Grampians landscape, an area that covers the Grampians National Park and adjacent parks and reserves. This document will underpin strategic planning for the Grampians landscape over the next 15 years to ensure the precious environmental and cultural values of this iconic landscape are preserved for future generations to enjoy. This includes providing longer-term direction on matters such as access and usage of the park. The process to develop this plan will include opportunities for you to share your thoughts, attend public information sessions, and get feedback from Parks Victoria and key stakeholders on specific questions that you may have.
I will have local staff from the Grampians National Park contact you to meet you on site and discuss these matters further.
Sally Lewis, Regional Director Western Region Parks Victoria
So, just to be clear. Safety ropes are permitted if necessary for safety while bush walking and National Parks regulations are complied with (i.e. no damage to rock or use of bolts, no trampling or damaging of vegetation). I’d like to thank Sally Lewis (Regional Director Western Region) and to Simon Talbot (Chief Operating Officer) and Gavan Mathieson (South West District Manager) for contacting me with regards to this important issue.