Iconic Site Worth Protecting

As we mark the centenary of one of our most significant natural wonders this week, it’s timely to reflect on what one of our most important eco-tourism pioneers envisioned for the reserve

On May 16, 1922 a substantial part of what is now the Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park was declared a scenic reserve under the Scenery Preservation Act, 1915. It was known for decades as “The Reserve”.

In 1910 Gustav Weindorfer, who established the nearby Waldheim Chalet, recommended reserving the area around Cradle Mountain. He is widely quoted as saying “This must be a National Park for the people for all time. It is magnificent and the people must know about it and enjoy it”.

Since 1982 the national park has been part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, the only one of 1154 world heritage areas globally with “wilderness” in its name. As stated in the current management plan, “wilderness” is considered to be a remote area largely free of impact from modern society; it is not an attempt to deny millennia of occupation and use, and an enduring connection to country, by the First Nation peoples of lutruwita (Tasmania).

Cradle Mountain is one of the world’s great national parks because it remains largely undeveloped; its wildness is still apparent, even to casual visitors.

But its condition could easily have been very different; there was a proposal in the 1920s to introduce deer which would have wreaked havoc on the native vegetation, proposals from the 1930s to the 1950s to build a road from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair, and a proposal in the 1940s to build a hotel near Lake Lilla just below Cradle Mountain. Later generations are thankful that these did not proceed.

One that unfortunately did proceed was the extension, around 1960, of the access road 2km from the Waldheim area to a car park at the edge of Dove Lake where it was clearly visible from many of the surrounding vantage points including Cradle Mountain itself.

The most recent tragedy is that the Parks and Wildlife Service failed to consider alternatives, such as closure and rehabilitation, prior to constructing an inappropriate viewing shelter, now almost complete, on the former car park site.

The viewing shelter was a major outcome of the 2016 Cradle Mountain Master Plan. This was an ambit claim from the local tourism industry written on the premise that Cradle Mountain needs to attract even more visitors. It called for a new visitor centre (uncontroversial and operational since 2020), the viewing shelter and a cableway with small gondolas from the visitor centre to Dove Lake to replace the shuttle bus service.

The cableway would be far more intrusive than the road which has existed for decades and is mostly well hidden in forest. The reason why it was considered desirable for visitors to get their first glimpse of the magnificent natural view of Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain through a window in a viewing shelter was never explained. No consideration was given to whether the additional infrastructure and increased visitor numbers were compatible with the reasons why people visit the national park.

For the past decade the main use of the car park has been as the turn-around area for the very successful shuttle bus service. One obvious alternative future for the car park would have been to close it and construct a much smaller turn-around and bus shelter a short distance back up the road. This would have restored much of the naturalness of Dove Lake. The former road could have provided easy walking and wheelchair access to the lake shore.

Surveys show that the vast majority of visitors to Cradle are very satisfied with the existing shuttle bus service. Nationwide, the vast majority of Australians see national parks as places to protect nature, protect wilderness, and for the low-key appreciation of nature. A major selling point for Tasmanian tourism is the outstanding opportunities to experience wild nature in our national parks. We should be protecting this crucial point of difference, not diminishing it by building more infrastructure to cram everincreasing numbers of visitors into sensitive areas like Dove Lake. People come to Cradle Mountain to enjoy its magnificent natural values, not for a theme-park cableway experience.

The state government needs to acknowledge that the core visitor experience and conservation values of Cradle Mountain are likely being compromised by excessive visitor numbers at peak periods. The priority should be a well-researched and considered approach to address this fundamental question, not to push ahead with the unjustified construction of a cableway.

The government should immediately halt further consideration of the cableway proposal so that it can join the long list of schemes over the past century that later generations are thankful did not proceed.

The above opinion piece by TNPA President, Nicholas Sawyer, was first published as a Talking Point in the Hobart Mercury newspaper on 19th May 2022.

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