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Yesterday afternoon Parks Victoria (PV) released maps (see at bottom) showing the full extent of new Special Protection Areas (SPAs) in the Grampians National Park/Gariwerd. The newly outlined areas, combined with the already identified areas in the Victoria Range, are extensive and cover many of the best and most popular climbing areas in the Park.
Technically climbing is not allowed in SPAs. In this new information from Parks Victoria there is no change to what a SPA designation means. Our understanding is that in order to enforce bans PV needs to have signs in place advising the public of a ban. According to Parks, signs will be in place by the middle of March advising bans in the eight Victoria Range areas that have already been released to the public, including (from north to south): Gondwanaland, the Gallery, Millennium Caves, Billimina Area, Billywing Buttress, Cave of Man Hands, Little Hands Cave and Manja Area.
PV has stated that it is initiating a reference group that will assess SPAs, including those newly released. This group will seek to identify if there are any issues of environmental or cultural significance. The work of the reference group will then inform how PV manages access and ultimately any changes to the way the Grampians National Park Management Plan handles Special Protection Areas.
Whilst the most recent maps identify new areas that have already been designated SPAs, PV has publicly stated its desire to work with climbers to understand areas that are important to the climbing community. We are hopeful that the release of this latest map signals the beginning of this process – a consultative process in which climbers can work with PV and Traditional Owners to take the highest resolution approach possible to access in individual areas of concern.
The climbing community acknowledges the connection Traditional Owners have to Gariwerd and we are sensitive to environmental concerns. As a collective and as individuals, climbers are responsible park users who care deeply about the environment and cultural heritage. We believe that the climbing community can work respectfully together with park managers to create an effective access framework that works for all parties.
We understand that the latest release of the maps will leave as many questions as they answer. For one, it’s not easy to make out what areas are covered by the new Special Protection Areas because of the scale of the maps and the lack of cliff features (Note: we are working on map overlays to try to get a better idea of the climbing sites that are covered by SPAs), but also because climbers have been climbing in Special Protection Areas for a long time, despite climbing being technically prohibited, a fact that Parks Victoria has quietly (and publicly) sanctioned.
Stay tuned for more updates as more information comes to light.
The information sheet and maps from Parks Victoria: