MEMBERS of Sandy Point Community Group are leading a campaign for an off-road shared trail – for walkers, cyclists and horse riders – between the coastal hamlets of Sandy Point and Waratah Bay.
Representatives of the group presented their case to South Gippsland Shire Council last Wednesday, and this Wednesday a petition carrying 1065 signatures in support of the WASP (Waratah Sandy Point) trail, popularly known as ‘Waratah Way,’ will be tabled at the council meeting.
“There is overwhelming support for the trail,” said community group member Cathy Giles, who gave last week’s presentation to Council and was pleased by the positive response from Councillors. “It has been talked about for four or five years. It’s time to make it happen.”
The route envisaged for the four and a half kilometre trail is an old fire access track from the car park at Ned Neale’s Lookout at Sandy Point to The Gap at Waratah Bay. It is Crown land, under the jurisdiction of the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP). Three kilometres at the Sandy Point end are managed by the local foreshore committee, while the shire is responsible for the one and a half kilometres at the other end. The cost has been estimated at $100,000, with plans to raise this sum over a staged timeframe.
DELWP, said Ms Giles, is supportive of the proposal and would be prepared to slash the track (which hasn’t been slashed for several years) and supply resources for a natural features survey to understand the topography of the land.
“Some minor investment now will enable a clear appraisal of the feasibility of the trail, understanding any issues to be addressed,” she said.
Trails are proven community and tourism assets, providing healthy recreation opportunities for locals and attractions for tourists, said Ms Giles. She pointed out that the Roy Henderson Path, completed in recent years and running from Manuka Street to Shallow Inlet, has proved extremely popular with cyclists and walkers. The ‘Waratah Way’ would cater for a similar market at the other end of Sandy Point, providing an opportunity for cyclists and walkers to keep well away from the fast-moving traffic on the busy main road into Sandy Point.
The beach was not a realistic alternative route, Ms Giles said, for a number of reasons. “Bikes and sand do not mix. Soft sand at high tide is very difficult to walk on. There are accessibility issues for people who have impaired mobility. The wind is often very strong and makes the beach unusable. High tide events mean that there is often little beach to walk on, and you have to time your recreation with the tide times.”
The petition calls on Council to include the trail in its Paths & Trails Strategy and to work with the Sandy Point Community Group “to help identify and secure funding opportunities from both within Council’s own Capital Works budget and external funding sources including grants, to expedite this trail’s construction at the earliest possible opportunity”.
The population of Sandy Point and Waratah Bay swells each summer as holidaymakers flock to the coast. Many of these people signed the petition, with several adding comments, such as “I believe this is an excellent recreational and emergency access facility for the Sandy Point and Waratah Bay communities and visitors to the region” and “This link will encourage and facilitate active and passive recreation pursuits that are otherwise under-supplied in Sandy Point. It can also reduce car dependency by encouraging cycling and walking.”
The trail also has the support of the Waratah Beach Camp. Camp director Pete Gould commented: “Not only will the local community benefit from the added attraction to an absolutely fabulous coastline, but also the hundreds of children that pass through our establishment each week will be enabled to better undertake flora and fauna studies, bike education and walking adventures in a safe and secure environment.”
Ms Giles said she must have spoken to well over 200 people in two weeks of heavy campaigning over the peak holiday season at Sandy Point. “Everyone spoke with enthusiasm about the prospect of a trail. The community is fully behind it and eager to see it happen.”