HUNDREDS flocked to Toora last Saturday to witness the official opening of the Great Southern Rail Trail’s Toora to Welshpool section with around 150 taking to the Trail in high spirits by foot or bicycle as soon as the ribbon was cut.
South Gippsland Shire Council’s CEO Tim Tamlin welcomed everyone to the auspicious occasion, including Shire Mayor Jeanette Harding, Deputy Mayor Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks, Cr Mohya Davies, Member for Eastern Victoria Mr. Danny O’Brien MLC.
Community groups and emergency services were also welcomed, including represented including Friends of Agnes Falls, U3A Prom Coast, Friends of Toora Heritage Pear Orchard, the Toora Lions Club, and members of the Toora and Welshpool CFA.
Apologies were received from Rail Trail Victoria and from the former Nationals Member for Gippsland South Peter Ryan.
Mayor Jeanette Harding was pleased to welcome the Member for Eastern Victoria, Harriet Shing MP to her hometown of Toora last Saturday.
Ms Shing was in town representing the new Minister for Regional Development, Jaala Pulford in launching the latest section of the Great Southern Rail Trail.
Cr Harding said this was the first official visit from the new Labor Government and she welcomed the opportunity to meet with Ms Shing and other representatives to familiarise them with the resources that South Gippsland offers and to also convey our priority needs.
“It was also wonderful to see over 200 people filling the streets of Toora and Sagasser Park where a barbecue and festivities were held,” Cr Harding said.
“It was a colourful cavalcade that headed off on the new section, with horse riders, a donkey and jinker, walkers and cyclists, including a penny farthing cyclist.
“It’s a marvellous asset for the Shire and each year we are seeing more and more visitors taking time to explore it,” Cr Harding said, adding that the Trail provides safe passage through a wonderful area for walkers, cyclists and riders.
Ms Shing spoke enthusiastically of the Great Southern Rail Trail, noting that the overall GSRT project is expected to add $1.8m per year to the Victorian economy through increased state, national and international tourism and will create 31 full time jobs.
“The Victorian Government has allocated $2m of regional development funding to develop the Foster to Welshpool leg of the trail,” Ms Shing said.
“The Toora to Welshpool section represent 10kms of trail including the construction of three bridges. The Foster to Welshpool section will enhance tourism within the Gippsland region by diversifying nature-based tourism opportunities.
“More than 50 per cent of visitors to Gippsland participate in nature-based activities, which is five per cent above Victoria’s average.
“The magnificent Toora to Welshpool extension will capitalise on nearby Wilsons Promontory National Park and provide another nature based experience for the region. This will draw users, not only from across Victoria and Australia, but from around the world,” Ms Shing said.
GSRT Committee of Management president Neville Pulham acknowledged, on behalf of his small group, the great work the Shire has put into the Foster to Toora stage and the Toora to Welshpool stage.
“The Shire’s Ned Dennis and Tony Peterson have been great people to work with. It’s marvellous to think that we can achieve this in such a short time,” Mr Pulham said.
“I’d also like to acknowledge someone who is perhaps ‘the godfather’ of the Great Southern Rail Trail, Mr Peter Ryan.
“His guidance since 1997 has been unbelievable and he’s done a great job in keeping us on the straight and narrow with our work on the Rail Trail.
“We’ve been busy with the maintenance of the Trail and have spent a lot of money getting it to the standard of the other end,” Mr Pulham said, urging landowners who have joined with them to remain patient as the group has limited funds and is doing all it can to get raise extra funds to keep on top of the weeds and to be good neighbours.
At the completion of formalities, Ms Shing cut the ribbon with assistance from Cr Harding and Mr Pulham and, not requiring any urging, cyclists and walkers eagerly began the trek to Welshpool. Once welcomed, many visited the town’s shops or continued on to Port Welshpool.
Afternoon tea was expected to be served at 3pm, but due to the early arrival of a great many walkers and riders, the Welshpool Basketball Association committee members were able, at a moment’s notice, to bring this forward by an hour, delivering a delicious afternoon tea to the weary, but excited ‘trailers.’
There was strong representation by nine members of U3A Prom Coast who took to the Rail Trail on bicycles. Three members, Jenni Munro, Di Cooper Godwin Abela, were so enthusiastic they cycled over 40kms, beginning their ride at Foster, stopping at Toora for the official opening, continuing on to Welshpool and then returning to Foster.
Those who share similar enthusiasm, or simply wish to enjoy the various stages of the Great Southern Rail Trail individually, will be pleased to know that the 91km Great Southern Rail Trail should be fully completed as one seamless trail by the middle of November.
Remaining to be completed is the Black Spur section between Meeniyan and Koonwarra, and the upgrading of the track between Welshpool and Port Welshpool.
Work has commenced on the Black Spur section, with one bridge demolished, the remaining two bridges undergoing major work with rehabilitation being carried out on the long causeway spans in an effort to retain them. Vegetation will be cleaned up to enable rehabilitation of the gravel track linking the bridges and track.
The existing narrow track between Welshpool and Port Welshpool is to be upgraded to meet the standard of the Rail Trail, resulting in a trail which extends from the regional town of Leongatha, passing through beautiful farmland through to the shores of Corner Inlet, where the vista of Wilsons Promontory will welcome those either beginning or finishing the trail at Port Welshpool.
“The completion of the Toora to Welshpool section was due to take place around October this year, so thanks to its completion being six or so months ahead of time, the resulting savings have meant that there are funds available to resurface and improve the Welshpool to Port Welshpool section,” said Council’s Community Strengthening Manager Ned Dennis.
Weather which has been neither too hot nor too wet has enabled these works to go ahead faster than expected.
“It’s a really good, close partnership between South Gippsland Shire Council and the GSRT Committee of Management,” Mr Dennis said, adding that the Committee is very pleased with the work carried out by brand identity firm Heine Jones on signage and other aspects of the marketing strategy of the trail.
As part of that strategy, signage funded by these savings is being developed which is to be placed along the Rail Trail, providing important information such as gradient of sections, distances between townships near the trail and also a little of their history – all of which will be of interest to cyclists, walkers and riders.
“As long as the weather is fairly good over the next few months and no unforeseen circumstances arise, we can hope to see completion of the remaining sections around mid-November,” said Mr Dennis, adding that mid-November is a somewhat conservative estimate and that the project may even be completed sooner.