Changes to rock climbing areas at the Grampians National Park will protect ancient Indigenous rock art, but could affect tourists heading to the world-class climbs.
Parks Victoria, which is responsible for maintaining the area, will ban climbers from eight focus areas, including The Gallery and Millenium climbs.
Signs will be installed at the approach to the areas, and “compliance activity” will take place, which could include fines.
The ban comes after concerns regarding damage to heritage sites, as rock climbing activities have increased.
In a media release, Parks Victoria pointed to bolting, or installing a permanent anchor into the rock, as one issue which threatens some of the rare rock art sites in the national park, also known to Traditional Owners as Gariwerd.
Parks Victoria’s chief operating officer Simon Talbot said in a statement a stakeholder reference group would be established to examine the Special Protection Areas in the Grampians National Park Management Plan - this is 10 years old, and a more complete strategy is required to maintain the protection as new activities like bouldering become popular.
“We are working to support climbers and other park users to find alternate locations in the Grampians to climb,” Mr Talbot said.
“We’ll also work with local businesses and Licenced Tour Operators over the coming months to clearly identify where climbing can continue.”
A spokesperson for Aboriginal Victoria said the organisation “supports any steps taken” to protect the cultural heritage of the area, as per the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 and Aboriginal Heritage Regulations 2018.
“Aboriginal Victoria has a history of working with Parks Victoria on the protection of cultural heritage, and has not raised any specific concerns in this instance,” they said.
Climbing organisations have reacted with uncertainty regarding the move.
Vertical Life magazine editor Ross Taylor said there were concerns about another 29 cliff sites which will be reviewed.
“As the bans currently stand, it’s only going to have a small effect (on tourists),” he said.
“But, this is unprecedented that climbing’s been banned in areas in the Grampians, and we’re really worried about the 29 other sites.
“What we’d like to see is the continuation of the way things have been in the past - if an issues come up, there’s been consultation with climbers to solve the issue, and we can come up with ways for protecting cultural heritage - if there’s rock art, it should be totally avoided by climbers, and that’s the way we’ve done things in the past.”
He added climbers had weathered bans in the area before, and had worked with Indigenous corporations for mutually beneficial solutions.
“We need to understand Indigenous groups better, then come up with solutions that avoid bans, or make sure they’re followed by all climbers,” he said.
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