Calls are being made to upgrade the rocky road leading to one of the region’s key natural tourist attractions in the Byron shire hinterland, Minyon Falls, visited by around 100,000 people a year.
Around 1.7 kilometres of the road leading to the popular picnic area is gravel and, according to locals and park rangers, in a constant state of disrepair with ruts and potholes caused by the high rainfall in the area.
Recent complaints to Byron and Lismore councils over the state of Minyon Falls Road led to some prompt action at the weekend when Byron shire work crews and machinery moved in to re-grade the road surface.
The road was gravelled, graded and rolled and now, according to regular users, 100 per cent safer.
Ironically, soon after the works, more rain fell in the area, and locals say the upgraded state of the road (Minyon Drive) won’t last long.
And their stand is supported by National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) rangers who manage the Nightcap National Park where the falls are located.
Yesterday, Goonengerry local David Williamson welcomed the response to pleas to have the road upgraded but says it’s time to seal the road because of the high volume of tourist traffic.
Mr Williamson said many other regional tourist attractions in the hinterland, including privately owned ones, had sealed roads.
He inspected the road yesterday as ‘with all the recent heavy rain it was probably impassable’ beforehand, and said the road had held up to the (soft) rain after the works.
The Minyon Falls picnic area at the time, he said, was ‘packed with tourist cars’.
‘There is only some 1.7km of gravel road to get the falls, with the primary responsibilty being Lismore and Byron shires, but a small section of NPWS,’ Mr Williamson told Echonetdaily.
‘With the high cost of regular, proper maintenance of the gravel there is a very good argument to seal this road, because of the high level of tourist traffic. At least it’s been temporarily improved, until the next major downpour, the repair will only last until then.’
Mr Williamson suggested councillors from both local government areas could ‘put up a case to seal the road’ to the relevant government ministers, NSW Tourism and National Party MPs Don Page (Ballina) and Thomas George (Lismore)’.
Mr Page told Echonetdaily that he would approach environment minister Rob Stokes over the issue.
Mr Page agreed that the road leading to the popular Minyon Falls ‘is an important road used by a large numbers of tourists and locals’.
‘Byron Council also has a responsibility in maintaining part of this important road,’ he said.
Mr George told Echonetdaily that he would support any application made in relation to the sealing of the road.
The cost of annual grading and other safety works may well easily offset the cost of sealing this 1.3km of bad gravel which is steep and very prone to scouring.
‘Such an important tourist site should clearly have a better all-weather safe access. It should have bipartisan support from all,’ Mr Williamson said.
Echonetdaily has been told that the traffic counter on the road shows more than 100,000 vehicles use the road each year and Southern Cross University surveys indicate most vistors to the park drive from Byron Bay and Lismore.
It’s also understood that NPWS is also concerned about the condition of the access road to the falls, a steep and narrow section under the control of Byron Shire Council.
Lismore City Council has responsibility for a 700-metre section and a council spokesperson told Echonetdaily that was last graded on the 20 November last year ‘and is still in good condition’, unlike the Byron Shire section of the road.
NPWS has often had to request upgrades of the road. The service gravelled and graded all its roads in the Nightcap National Park and Whian Whian conservation area before Christmas.
It’s also understood that NPWS has identified the road as a significant hazard to users which impacts on tourism.
According to Wikipedia, the 100-metre waterfall and nearby camping ground at Rummery Park in the national park are popular visitor attractions in the Nightcap National Park, which was added to the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Site in 1986’.
NPWS manages the area as part of the national park, and provides facilities for visitors, including a 50-metre steel boardwalk to the lookout, which is wheelchair accessible, several picnic tables and barbecue facilities at the top of the falls.