It was once billed as ‘‘Canberra’s Kakadu’’. And now momentum is building to have Ginninderra Falls and its surrounds embraced by a new cross-border national park, perhaps in time for Canberra’s centenary.
The Ginninderra Falls Association is pushing for the creation of a 900ha Murrumbidgee-Ginninderra Gorges National Park covering 700ha in NSW and the 200ha Woodstock Nature Reserve in the ACT.
The spectacular centrepiece – the 41m-high falls – lies just over the ACT border within 3km of Belconnen’s western suburbs.
The association says some freehold land would have to be purchased for the park but it already has willing participants in John and Anna Hyles who have agreed to sell their 80ha property which provides access to the falls via the ACT.
Mrs Hyles said the site needed proper boardwalks, toilets and hand rails but with the right management could be a tourist boon for the area.
‘‘It needs a fair bit of investment and that is really beyond our means so we have said to the [NSW] Government: ‘It needs to be in public ownership. It’s a stunning site. It’s absolutely gorgeous and people want to access it’,’’ she said.
Members of the Ginninderra Falls Association met this week with ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher who said she would work with NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell and Yass Valley Council Mayor Nic Carmody to further the idea.
‘‘I agree Ginninderra Falls has potential to be a significant national park just over the border in New South Wales and there is certainly merit in connecting up our reserve with it,’’ Ms Gallagher said.
‘‘Obviously this idea is in its early stages but we would be very happy to be at the table with the NSW Government and the Yass Valley Council, should they agree to be a part of discussions. I have written to the NSW Premier and Yass Valley Council about this and look forward to working constructively with them on this.’’
Ginninderra Falls Association committee member Graeme Barrow said the group was impressed with Ms Gallagher’s ‘‘grasp of the issues’’ around the proposal.
‘‘If this national park became a reality, the benefits to the ACT would be quite significant, given the only road access is through the ACT and people would have to come into the territory to get to it,’’ he said.
Mr Barrow said the association wanted to attract tourists but also protect the area’s biodiversity.
‘‘We think the burgeoning population of Canberra is going to put great pressure on that particular area and the best way of protecting it would be by national park status,’’ he said.
Brian Everingham, who heads the reserves committee of the lobby group National Parks Association of NSW, inspected the site last week and his interim assessment was that the area ‘‘potentially’’ could be a regional park rather than national park, allowing ‘‘more recreational activities than what’s allowed in a national park’’.
‘‘However, there are parts of the gorge that could be managed and should be managed at nature reserve level for both their geodiversity and their specific biological values. That offers the highest protection, sometimes without even access by humans,’’ he said.
‘‘There is also potential to build on a national wildlife corridor plan which is only in draft form at the moment and to look at a string of similar reserves and/or covenants over private lands along the Murrumbidgee corridor.’’
The Hyles family used to charge entry to the falls, promoting it as ‘‘Canberra’s Kakadu’’. But it had to close the property to the public in 2004 because its insurance company refused to continue coverage. Three people separately injured at the falls tried unsuccessfully to sue the family. One person had been rock climbing, another jumped from the falls and another slipped on rocks and fell.
The family say they still want to operate their nearby granite pit, subdividing the land.
Mrs Hyles said a proposal by the Riverview Group to build 4500 homes from West Belconnen across into NSW would bring more people who wanted to view the falls. ‘‘It is so close that it is a natural position for a good ecotourism project, with the idea of a visitors centre there as well,’’ she said. ‘‘School children can go out and see it and be back for lunch.’’