THE State Government will fund the extension of the Great Southern Rail Trail from Foster to Welshpool to the tune of $2 million.
Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional and Rural Development Peter Ryan made the announcement to great applause in a visit to his Gippsland South electorate last Tuesday.
He addressed a crowd of Toora and Welshpool residents, along with South Gippsland Shire Councillors Mohya Davies, Jeanette Harding and Kieran Kennedy, and senior shire staff, gathered at Sagasser Park in Toora for the opening of the Toora Railway Park Reserve Development Project.
This project, funded by all three levels of government – federal, state and local – has seen the drainage improved, car parking installed next to the skate park and an area for long vehicle car parking established. The park is a beautiful rest spot beside what is currently only a short length of rail trail, but which will eventually be, thanks to Tuesday’s funding announcement, more than 18 kilometres of trail running all the way from Foster through Toora to Welshpool. The newly drained area is being revegetated and solar lighting is due to go in along the pathway from the park to Toora Recreation Reserve.
“The Easter Bunny’s come early!” exclaimed a delighted Neville Pulham, president of the Great Southern Rail Trail committee of management.
He said thanks were due to all the committee, especially secretary (and retired engineer) John McKay, who has worked long and hard on developing the rail trail.
“Council staff, too, have been magnificent,” said Mr Pulham.
South Gippsland Shire Council has already announced it is prepared to contribute $900,000 to the $2.9 million rail trail extension project.
Shire chief executive officer Tim Tamlin said that Council would run the project in consultation with the community.
“It’s really good to get the money. We just want to spend it now!” exclaimed Mr McKay.
Mr Ryan said a cost benefit analysis had shown that extension of the rail trail would be great for tourism and boost the local economy. He said that rail trails were proving to be hits with the public wherever they were established in Victoria.
This extension, he said, would add more than 18 kilometres to a popular tourist attraction and further showcase the natural beauty of the region.
“The project will link four communities in the Corner Inlet tourism precinct and create a wonderful recreational and tourism experience for both locals and visitors,” he said.
“Given the popularity of the current 49 km trail from Leongatha to Foster, the addition of Toora, Agnes and Welshpool to the trail is expected to provide a significant economic boost for the region.”
Mr Ryan said the extension would be funded over three years and include three sections:
Section 1: Foster to Toora, involving construction of 8.6 km of trail, with four bridges and associated infrastructure including signage, safety crossings, seating and bike parking.
Section 2: Toora to Agnes, involving construction of 4.54 km of trail, with three bridges and associated infrastructure.
Section 3: Agnes to Welshpool, involving construction of 5.33 km of trail, with five
bridges and infrastructure.
In the absence of the mayor, Deputy Mayor Mohya Davies responded to Mr Ryan’s announcement on behalf of the shire council.
She thanked Mr Ryan and the State Government for partnering with the shire to make the rail trail extension possible.
“This is a very exciting time for Toora and the Corner Inlet area,” she said, pointing out that the shire already attracts 1.1 million visitors per year and the rail trail extension would be a further popular attraction.
The rail trail extension is being funded from the Coalition Government’s $1 billion Regional Growth Fund.
“The Regional Growth Fund is the Coalition’s flagship regional development initiative, specifically designed to support jobs, growth and prosperity in regional and rural Victoria,” Mr Ryan said.
$250,000 FOR VENUS BAY PATHWAY
Members of Toora Lions Club organised a sausage sizzle for the crowd gathered at Sagasser Park. Mr Ryan had just enough time to enjoy a sausage in bread before he was whisked off to his next scheduled engagement in a very busy day in Gippsland.
This was Venus Bay, where the minister announced funding of $250,000 towards a pathway connecting Tarwin Lower with the centre of Venus Bay.
“The pathway will connect critical tourism infrastructure in the townships of Tarwin Lower and Venus Bay, including the Venus Bay Community Centre, caravan park and Surf Life Saving Club,” Mr Ryan said. “The pathway will be used by not only local residents but also the thousands of holidaymakers who visit the region during the peak holiday periods each year.
“It will also encourage pedestrians away from the roadside, making it safer and easier for those travelling between the two communities.”
Mr Ryan said the new pathway, which will be constructed from compacted recycled concrete, is expected to be completed by mid-year.
“Funding will be provided to the South Gippsland Shire Council through the Victorian Coalition Government’s $1 billion Regional Growth Fund Putting Locals First Program, with Council to contribute a further $100,000 towards the project,” Mr Ryan said.
“Putting Locals First is a $100 million initiative that enables regional communities to devise and deliver service and infrastructure responses that reflect local priorities.
“It is supporting stronger and more sustainable regional communities by building their capacity to drive development in their region.”