New research shows climbs made in the Grampians National Park have dropped since Parks Victoria took action earlier this year.
Published on the climbers-run website Save Grampians Climbing, the figures show there were 1908 climbs recorded in the five months to July this year - when Parks Victoria began more strictly enforcing Special Protection Areas at eight sites in the national park.
This compares to 3550 in the same five months of 2018 - a drop of 46 per cent.
It comes as the group representing Traditional Owners in the Grampians region says it is working with climbers to develop a long-term solution.
Researcher Neil Monteith, who collated the data and has written a guide on Grampians rock climbing, said it reflected a drop in visitor numbers to the region.
"It's important to note this data only looks at the trend rather than total visitor numbers: Many people do five to 10 climbs a day in the Grampians," he said.
"I've released this data to show the economic impact on the area. Visitors used to come and stay at Mount Zero log cabins for two weeks. Now they're not going to restaurants or buying ice cream at Halls Gap."
Parks Victoria ramped up its enforcement in the National Park in February following concerns rock climbing was having a negative impact on indigenous rock art sites and endangered species.
It has previously estimated that since 2013, 40 rock art sites have been rediscovered in the Grampians, taking the total in the area to about 140, about 90 per cent of all known sites in Victoria.
Mr Monteith lives in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, another climbing destination, having lived in the Grampians region for ten years before this.
He said he personally had decided against coming back down to Victoria to climb this year, due to a "feeling of unwelcomeness".
"The Grampians is a big area, but some of the areas now off-limits get much of the traffic," he said.
"There are some climbing routes that are still open, which might get ten visitors a year, either because they're a long walk or the rocks are loose and dangerous. By contrast, Summer Day Valley has a car park, a toilet block and it's a five-minute walk."
Rock climbing is currently permitted with licensed tour groups in three areas within Summer Day Valley near Laharum until September 30.
The data also showed between March and July 2019, there were 3628 climbs logged at Mount Arapiles, an increase of 14 per cent. While Mr Monteith said this reflected some climbers heading to the site as an alternative, Arapiles was not a replacement for the Grampians economically.
"There are different styles of climbing, and Arapiles is a dedicated climbing area. As a family going on holiday, we can go climbing in the Grampians, then for a bushwalk and also do tourist activities. You also can't day trip to Arapiles like you can the Grampians," he said.
Building towards resolution?
Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation chair Jason Mifsud called the data "great".
He said the group was working "on a number of medium and long-term solutions with Parks Victoria and climbers".
"This is a positive work in progress, and we really don't want to have a running commentary on this issue until we have a more consolidated position," he said. "We look forward to sharing this in the not too distant future."
Mr Mifsud said he hoped to develop a set of shared principals with surrounding traditional owner corporations, Gunditj Mirring and Barengi Gadjin, and to eventually have equal authority for intervention when there was the risk of or actual damage to cultural heritage.
"I'm convinced that traditional owners and rock climbers would share in similar cultural heritage and environmental values, but we need to clearly articulate what they are in practice," he said.
"We have more in common than not."
A Parks Victoria spokesman said the organisation expected to see the landscape and vegetation begin to naturally recover in coming years as a result of the crackdown.
"In time we'll be working with Traditional Owners and specialists on how damage to rock art and other cultural values can be remediated," he said.
"Dozens of rare, threatened and endemic species of plants and animals have been identified as being protected by the national park's Special Protection Areas. These range from animals like Southern-Brown Bandicoots and the Grampians Bush-Yabby to plants such as the Grampians Boronia and Fringed Sun-orchid."
The spokesman said people could visit Engage Victoria to register their interest in the upcoming consultation on a Grampians Landscape Management Plan. He said consultation sessions would be announced shortly, with details available at: https://engage.vic.gov.au/grampians-management-plan.
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