How much ‘low-impact’ development in national parks is too much?

The debate about how much – if any – commercial development should be allowed in Australia’s many stunning national parks is one that is set to intensify.

Across the country, there are more and more ‘low-impact’ tourism developments taking place, but there are still those convinced that this is a huge mistake.

Back in 2014, the Tasmanian Government decided to pursue a policy of ‘unlocking’ the wilderness areas, and implemented an Expressions of Interest (EOI) process for tourism developments in Tasmania’s national parks.

However, the Tasmanian National Parks Association (TNPA), a non-government organisation committed to the protection of the state’s parks remain bitterly opposed to the direction being taken.

In a recent opinion piece, the organisation’s President, Nicholas Sawyer, didn’t pull any punches.

“Developments in wilderness are an oxymoron; they do not showcase wilderness, they destroy it, and excessive numbers of visitors, even in the most accessible sections of a national park, detract from the natural experience,” he said. “‘Unlocking’ and facilitating ever-increasing numbers of visitors to a few ‘iconic’ locations in our parks is a recipe to undermine the long-term viability of our tourist industry; not to strengthen it.”

He said many visitor surveys over decades had shown that Tasmania is synonymous with wilderness and that it was that ‘wild’ element that made it special.

Dove lake viewing shelter

An artist’s impression of Dove Lake viewing shelter before it was built. PIC: Tasmanian Government 

“Other evidence of widespread opposition to development within parks comes from the large numbers of representations opposing both the proposed Lake Malbena helicopter-accessed tourism development and the proposed kunanyi (Mount Wellington) commercial development and cable car,” Mr Sawyer said. “All of these data demonstrate a massive disconnect between public opinion as measured by reputable surveys, and the priorities of the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania and the state government.”

He also pointed at the ‘massive’ soon-to-open viewing shelter at Dove Lake near Cradle Mountain, and the proposed cableway to replace the shuttle bus service.

“The viewing shelter detracts from the naturalness of Dove Lake and the cableway, should it eventually be constructed, will detract even more,” Mr Sawyer said.

He said this was one example of the standard government response to increasing visitor numbers in a park; to build infrastructure to cater for more visitors, with no serious consideration of alternatives or of impacts on the experience visitors are seeking.

“This is often ‘sold’ as ‘future proofing’ but if visitor numbers continue to double every decade or thereabouts, it won’t be long until another round of ‘future proofing’ is required,” Mr Sawyer said. “We are going to have to draw the line on visitor numbers sometime and we should acknowledge that we may already have passed the threshold where overcrowding in key locations at peak periods is detracting from Tasmania’s reputation.”

  • How do you think we can stop our most beautiful national parks from being ‘loved to death’ while still giving visitors the facilities they need? Do you think helicopter flights and cableways is a step too far? Email us here to share your thoughts.


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