THE rain finally cleared last Sunday, just in time for a massive community celebration of the newest section of the Great Southern Rail Trail, an 8.6km section of trail linking Foster and Toora.
Although a strong wind prevailed, making conditions less than perfect, there was a party atmosphere at both ends of the trail – Station Park in Foster at 10am, for the official cutting of the ribbon, and then on the edge of Sagasser Park in Toora.
The celebrations were coordinated by South Gippsland Shire Council staff. At Foster, the local Rotary Club ran a sausage sizzle, while volunteers from the South Gippsland Hospital Auxiliary provided a delicious range of biscuits and scones and some very welcome hot drinks. At the other end of the trail, participants who had worked up a substantial appetite were rewarded with a tasty barbecue courtesy of the Toora Lions. Live music from The Pegs (and at Foster locals Alicia Miller on vocals accompanied by Tyler Naylor on guitar) and face painting courtesy of Megan Williams added to the festive mood.
Well over 200 cyclists, runners and walkers turned out to test themselves on the trail, many making the return trip, although some found the cold headwind too much to tackle all the way back to Foster. Some used more unorthodox means to travel the trail. Fiona Mottram and her friend Kylie jogged most of the distance in a cart drawn by Fiona’s donkey, Tambo. Meanwhile, Fiona’s partner, Ross West, won a medal as the first (and only) penny farthing rider to the finish.
Other medals were won as follows:
- 1st cyclist – Nick Mitchell and David Velja;
- 1st runner – Darryl Callcott;
- 1st walker – Vicki Thompson;
- Youngest participant – Amelia Knee (8 months);
- Oldest participant – Gordon McKeown (nearly 90);
- Best decorated bike – Lachlan Knee;
- 1st lady runner – Nicole Welsh;
- 1st lady cyclist – Jenna Hawkins.
With the rail trail extension a joint state and local government project, Deputy Premier and Member for Gippsland South Peter Ryan was among the special guests at the opening. He was charged with cutting the ribbon to officially open the new section of trail and wave off the cyclists, runners and walkers.
Mr Ryan said the Foster to Toora section completed stage one of the $2.9 million three-stage Great Southern Rail Trail Extension project, which received $2 million in funding support from the Victorian Coalition Government’s $1 billion Regional Growth Fund.
South Gippsland Shire Council supported the project to the tune of $900,000. Mayor Kieran Kennedy said it was the most successful state and local government partnership in which he had been involved.
He and fellow shire councillors Mohya Davies, Jeanette Harding and Andrew McEwen, also present at the opening, were fairly bursting with pride when the CEO of Rail Trails Australia, Damian McCrohan, pointed out that South Gippsland Shire Council had probably contributed more than any other local council to Australia’s rail trail network. He explained that the Foster to Toora extension brings the length of the rail trail network in Australia to an awesome 850 kilometres, with much of the rollout in Victoria. South Gippsland, he said, should be proud of its contribution. “It’s a fantastic effort, with great work done by a combination of volunteers and local and state government.”
“The Foster to Toora section involved the construction of 8.6kms of trail, including the installation of four bridges and associated infrastructure such as signage, seating, bike parking and safety crossings,” said Mr Ryan, as he too congratulated the shire council and the rail trail committee of management, led by Neville Pulham.
“This is the first stage of a total of 18.5kms worth of extensions to the Great Southern Rail Trail that will link Foster to Welshpool. Stage two of the project, which involves an extension from Toora to Agnes, will begin later this year, with stage three from Agnes to Welshpool to begin next year.”
The rail trail, he said, is an excellent asset for the South Gippsland region.
“Once complete, this extension is expected to generate around $5.5 million from increased tourism for the region over a three-year period,” Mr Ryan said.
“Extending the rail trail has been a high priority for the South Gippsland Shire Council and the committee of management for many years, and we are now one step closer towards the completion of this important project.”
The president of the rail trail committee of management, Neville Pulham, said that the rail trail had come a long way since the project began at Leongatha in 1997. He expressed quiet confidence that the missing Black Spur section, between Koonwarra and Meeniyan, would be constructed before too long.