April 15, 2024

A $10m walking track in the Blue Mountains has been opened by the New South Wales government in the hope of attracting more international visitors to a region still healing from years of flooding and bushfires.

“The Grand Cliff Top Walk provides visitors with a new, adventurous opportunity to connect with nature while exploring this track through the Blue Mountains National Park,” said the NSW environment minister, Penny Sharpe.

On Gundungurra country, the two-day track runs for 19km, connecting the Wentworth Falls, Leura and Katoomba areas, with options for shorter walks.

It has been designed to last up to 100 years, the NSW government said, owing to the use of sandstone rather than timber for bushfire resilience.

A map of the new Grand Cliff Top Walk in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. Photograph: National Parks and Wildlife Service

Sharpe is hopeful that “the walk will boost the economic value of nature-based tourism” in the area, “attracting more domestic and international visitors and more overnight stays”.

The Blue Mountains mayor, Mark Greenhill, and his council have worked closely with the state’s National Parks and Wildlife Service “to renew and connect existing walking tracks and complete missing links in Wentworth Falls and Katoomba”.

Greenhill, said this year that his region was still paying off an “enormous recovery bill” after four flooding events in the three years that followed the black summer bushfires of 2019 and 2020.

“The disasters resulted in a damage bill of more than $400m and the city continues to recover from one-third of our road network being damaged, more than 60 landslips, extensive damage to walking tracks and damage to more than 50 council buildings,” Greenhill said.

More than 37% of the NSW national parks system was affected by the bushfires, and about 257 visitor precincts were closed from December 2019 to March 2020.

And nearly 30% of walking trails in NSW national parks were inaccessible because of heavy rainfall and flooding during the latest La Niña, which ended in early 2023.

The NPWS was also forced to close or restrict park access from March to December 2020 because of Covid-19.

Track closures could occur at any given time across the 624 walking tracks in NSW national parks, an NPWS spokesperson said. As of Monday 25 March, 33 parks are closed to the public across the state, most for maintenance works, fire prevention measures, pest control or upgrades.

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Fletchers Lookout on the Grand Cliff Top Walk. Photograph: Remy Brand/National Parks and Wildlife Service

The National Parks Association of NSW executive officer, Gary Dunnett, said: “The walking track network is, from NPA’s perspective, one of the most important recreational assets in NSW, and it is one that’s exposed to these environmental events.”

Australian bushfires and floods started out “as once in a generation … but the truth is as we move into more regular cycles” the more our walking tracks are exposed to extreme conditions, Dunnett said.

“The age of the track network … particularly in the Blue Mountains, is really prone to landslides and other sorts of geotechnical faults.”

The most notable track affected is the National Pass, which has been closed to the public since 2017 after a contractor died when a rock fell on him. Parts of the track were built by hand in the early 1900s.

“I’m not sure how they’re going to resolve the National Pass, which is an incredible pity because it’s a spectacular track … but there’s some really difficult structural issues to be dealt with” Dunnett said.

“We absolutely understand it takes time … and also that there’s no magic solution to this.”

The Grand Cliff Top Walk has been a four-year-long project, which the NPWS has gradually opened after sections are completed. The track is now finally open as one continuous walk.

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