Mt Cole Concerns
MOUNT COLE - More than 300 people attended a community day at Mount Cole last Sunday, amid speculation organisers were planning to launch a campaign to have Mount Cole and the Pyrenees Ranges declared national parks.
The Bendigo District Environmental Council, Ballarat Environment Network and Wombat Forestcare advertised the event as an opportunity to discuss conservation, but a flyer circulating last week led many to believe they may have had other intentions.
Information contained in the flyer stated that the three environmental groups were pushing for the areas to be declared national parks, which would see a number of stringent laws attached to their use.
The laws would restrict many leisure activities including horse riding, four-wheel driving and motorcycling.
Logging and licensed gathering of firewood would be outlawed and many of the current access roads would be closed.
The environmental groups have denied the claims, but locals used the community day to express their concerns.
Local resident, Karen Kaye said discussion at the event was heated at times.
"There was an enormous local contingent, as well as people from Melbourne who were representing trail groups and four-wheel drive clubs,'' she said.
"It was an emotive group of people and there were some expressions of anger but apart from that it was pretty calm.''
After bird watching, bushwalking and other nature-based activities, the environmental groups launched a discussion about the preservation of Mount Cole and the Pyrenees Ranges.
Mrs Kaye said the groups did not make any major proposals during the discussion.
"They didn't say that that (converting the area into a national park) was their agenda,'' she said.
"The majority of people that were there on Sunday are against it.''
Mrs Kaye said the discussion mainly centred around maintenance of the Mount Cole and Pyrenees areas.
"At the end of the day everyone agreed that the mountain does need to be looked at,'' she said.
"There are a lot of feral animals, including pigs, that impact on the environment. There are also some fire tracks that have fallen timber over them.
"It was decided that protective work needs to be done to keep the mountain as it is.
"It does not need to be closed up because that would only prevent the work from being undertaken.''
At the conclusion of the meeting, an action group was formed. 'Friends of Mount Cole' is a representation of local recreational groups, that will attempt to give the mountain a 'voice'.
While residents are fighting to keep Mt Cole as it is, the environmental groups strongly deny they want to convert the area into a national park.
Community day organiser, Ian Magee, said the community had no reason to be concerned by information contained in the flyer.
"The flyer was totally contrary to anything that is being suggested,'' he said.
"We are not making any proposal for a national park.''
Mr Magee said the groups were simply trying to increase the area's potential for tourism.
"The area is already used somewhat by tourists but it is not being utilised as well as it might be,'' he said.
"There is no structure or visitor information services.
"Basically the area needs to be recognised for its value as a recreational source.
"Ecotourism could provide significant economic benefit to the community.''
Mr Magee said the panel had been asked a number of questions about national parks at the community day.
"We had questions asked by people in the forum who wanted to know what exclusions there would be if it was turned into a national park,'' he said.
"The general comment from the panel was that it was beyond our understanding and our business.''
The Bendigo and District Environmental Council will meet with the Department of Sustainability and Environment in the near future, to discuss the conservation of Mount Cole and the Pyrenees Ranges.
They are expected to cover issues including climate change, fire safety, logging and tourism.