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JOINT MEDIA RELEASE
Senator Robert Hill
Federal Minister for Environment and Heritage
Premier of Queensland
The central region of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area is set to become the walking track hub of north Queensland.
In a joint announcement by Senator Robert Hill and Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, up to $1 million dollars could be spent over the next two years to create a network of walking tracks in the area bound by the Far North Queensland towns of Ravenshoe, Tully, Innisfail and Millaa Millaa.
The funding comes through the Queensland Heritage Trails Network, a joint initiative of the Commonwealth and Queensland governments.
Premier Beattie said the project aimed to provide a boost to regional tourism opportunities.
"The construction of the tracks provides greater incentive for visitors to travel from the hub destinations of Cairns and Port Douglas and spend more time in the regions - thus creating up to 80 jobs for locals and business opportunities," Mr Beattie said.
Senator Hill said "this walking track has the potential to attract the same international attention as the renowned walking areas of Milford Sound in New Zealand and Cradle Mountain in Tasmania."
Senator Hill said the track construction was the first tangible outcome of the Wet Tropics Walking Track Strategy and demonstrated the Commonwealth Government's commitment to presenting the values of the World Heritage Area - and in supporting tourism growth in rural areas.
"The construction of the tracks will also have significant conservation benefits, many of the tracks will follow the line of redundant logging tracks currently infested by weeds. Work on the new tracks will mean these weeds are removed and the work will also involve planting appropriate tree species to close the canopy," he said.
The program will be coordinated by walking track expert Andrew Graham, from the CSIRO in Atherton, who will work for a Steering Group chaired by Cardwell Shire Councillor Ron Hunt. Mr Hunt said: "The quality of walking experience in this area is absolutely stunning and is easily on a par with walking track icons such as Cradle Mountain and Milford Sound."
"In selecting the tracks the number one criterion will be to minimise the impact on the environment, this may lead to some potential tracks being ruled out. Another factor will be to ensure that ongoing maintenance costs are sustainable. " said Mr Hunt.
The walking tracks will also allow the region's traditional owners to develop businesses through which they can share and protect their cultural heritage. In order to ensure that the tracks do not conflict with these heritage values, the Steering Group has contracted the North Queensland Land Council (NQLC) to coordinate the consultation process with Traditional Owners.
"The tracks mostly follow the alignment of the trading routes of the traditional owners. Settlers used these tracks during the colonisation period for timber logging purposes. It is fitting that the tracks are now returned to their original purpose," chair of the NQLC Terry O'Shane said.
"Some of the tracks will be able to be accessed by guides and I will certainly be seeking the Bama (rainforest people) be given priority for guide permits."
The walking tracks are part of a larger program currently being implemented in the region by the QHTN. Eleven projects are being developed at a cost of $4.93 million to present the rich cultural and natural heritage of the Wet Tropics. A further $6.87 million has been committed to develop major visitor attractions in the surrounding areas of Cairns, Atherton, Chillagoe, Laura, Coen and the Torres Strait.
The Queensland Heritage Trails Network is an investment of $110 million by the Queensland, Commonwealth and local governments to develop 32 major visitor attractions which present the State's vast natural and cultural heritage. Designed to celebrate the Centenary of Federation, attractions will come on line throughout 2001 and 2002 and will provide employment and economic development opportunities for rural and regional Queensland.
The Federal Government has provided $50 million from the Federation Fund for the Queensland Heritage Trails Network, as part of next year's Centenary of Federation celebrations.
November 30, 2000
Contact: Belinda Huppatz (Senator Hill) 02 6277 7640 or 0419 258 364
Teresa Mullan (Premier Beattie) 07 3224 8749