TEMPEST SUBSIDES: Glenn Tempest, of Natimuk, at the Devils MArbles in Central Australia in 2010. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

TEMPEST SUBSIDES: Glenn Tempest, of Natimuk, at the Devils MArbles in Central Australia in 2010. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Grampians guidebook publishers weigh up future

Grampians guidebook publishers weigh up future

Tourism
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"We love the people, but that's not the reason we came here."

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Glenn Tempest and his wife Karen love Natimuk and its people.

But they are not the reason the couple relocated 300 kilometres west of their Moonee Ponds home seven years ago.

Rockclimbing is.

Now Mr Tempest is considering relocating, in response to the ongoing uncertainty around the access climbers will have to the Grampians and Mount Arapiles long-term. He says other residents are too.

On August 17, Mr Tempest announced his guidebook distribution company, Open Spaces, would halt all work on all planned rock climbing and bushwalking titles for the two locations.

It followed Parks Victoria announcing the discovery of cultural heritage at two of the Grampians' most popular climbing destinations three days earlier, and establishing "protection zones" restricting access to these sites.

These are in addition to Parks Victoria putting in place eight Special Protection Areas across the Grampians in February 2019, barring rock climbing and other activities following concerns about damage to sites of cultural significance.

Since June, climbers at Mount Arapiles have faced $300,000 fines for entering Taylor's Rock/Declaration Crag, where more cultural heritage has been rediscovered.

"Over the years, Open Spaces has sold tens of thousands of guidebooks to the Grampians regions," Mr Tempest said.

"I figure we have generated millions of dollars in spending on local businesses, and it's really disappointing to see this come to an end.

"It's distressing to see these climbing restrictions are having not only on the climbers leaving the area, but also the tourist businesses affected. The pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works because it makes the hardship less visceral, I guess, as in people will look at it and go 'There is not much business going on anyway'.

"Tourists will come back, but the trouble is there are going to be whole groups of people that won't come back to the Grampians, and that will make it more difficult to get it back to how it was."

Parks Victoria has previously stated future access to many climbing sites could be laid out in its draft Grampians Landscape Management Plan, due to be released for public comment later this year.

Advocacy body, the Gariwerd Wimmera Reconciliation Network, has also expressed optimism a decision the newest restrictions, which are different to the eight SPAs, could be made sooner rather than later. Mr Tempest said he could not afford to wait.

"We can't plan for ifs and buts. There has to be something more concrete: We've got guidebooks to produce that cost a lot of money, and we're not going to put that money in if there are going to be more bans."

SUMMIT UP: Steve Toal is having doubts about publishing his next guidebook, and the historical climbers' knowledge it contains. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

SUMMIT UP: Steve Toal is having doubts about publishing his next guidebook, and the historical climbers' knowledge it contains. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

One guidebook publisher, Steve Toal, published his first title, "Central Grampians Comprehensive Guide" around the time Parks announced it would crack down on enforcing climbing restrictions in February 2019.

Mr Toal purchased a house in Halls Gap in 2014 and splits his life between the Grampians town and Melbourne. It was this move that saw him strike up a friendship with climbers, and a desire to map undocumented routes across the national park.

"My book covers 1400 climbs, but I uncovered a lot more material than that in my research, extending down to Mount Abrupt in the southern Grampians," he said. "At the time the restrictions were announced, I had plans to proceed with the publication of the rest of those. To some extent, the bans forced me to reconsider whether to publish them, and it has also affected my ability to research these further.

Mr Toal said his research involved checking climbing routes to ascertain the accuracy of climbers' descriptions, which involves work with a rope. He said he had also planned to document climbing and hiking routes south of Lake Bellfield.

"I've documented 98 per cent of Bundaleer, and I'm 60 per cent complete on volume two, but is there any point proceeding with it if it's not going to be used practically?" he said.

Mr Toal has also written to Parks Victoria about reinstating climbing access in areas with no known cultural or environmental heritage.

Mr Tempest said other guidebook publishers had decided to pull out of the Grampians before the pandemic hit.

"I think the guidebook industry is a really important part of the tourism that comes into this region. People buy guidebooks and they then use them multiple times," he said.

"Neil Montieth and Simon Carter produce the main climbing guide to the Grampians, and they have stopped all production. They have lost quite a lot of money over this.

A Parks Victoria spokesman said it had consulted with business operators during the first stage of developing the plan in 2019.

He said the organisation supported "sustainable nature-based tourism that benefits local businesses, communities and economies".

"The draft plan will include proposals for how recreation can be sustainably enjoyed in the national park and some smaller nearby parks and reserves. This includes rockclimbing," he said.

Regional Director for Western Victoria Jason Borg said Parks knew the cultural and environmental protections that had been introduced in the Grampians "have affected some climbers and businesses".

"Climbing remains permitted in the park outside of currently protected areas," he said.

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