THE Franklin River Reserve will stay shut to campers despite pressure and repeated requests from the Corner Inlet district community and local groups to allow at least local people and their families to stay there as they have for generations.
The shire’s administration panel again reiterated its no camping stance at the virtual open meeting held on Wednesday November 25, 2020, in reply to written questions posed in advance by Foster district resident Penny Hamlett.
South Gippsland Shire Council permanently banned overnight camping at the scenic reserve, beside the South Gippsland Highway between Foster and Toora, in June 2020, largely because of overuse and misuse of the reserve and its public toilets.
In recent years the reserve had become ever more popular among caravan and recreational vehicle users as a free camping spot.
Emptying these vehicles’ chemical toilet cassettes was overwhelming the septic sewerage system the shire installed in 2018 that was intended to cater for day visitors and not campers staying beyond the original 48-hour time limit as well.
The shire also cited an insufficient drinking water supply at the reserve, increased fire and native vegetation damage risk as well as the danger posed by falling tree limbs, left-behind rubbish, and public health implications.
Ms Hamlett asked whether the Victorian Parks and Crown Land Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, which removes the existing prohibition on camping on licensed water frontage, would override the council’s ban on camping at the Franklin River Reserve.
In response the shire chief executive officer Kerryn Ellis stated that “recent changes in the Land Act 1958 legislation to allow camping on water frontages and regulated watercourse land does not include reserves managed by Council or a committee of management under the Crown Land (Reserves) Act 1978 such as Franklin River Reserve.
“The decision to close Franklin River Reserve to camping is unrelated to the change in legislation and the legislation does not override Council’s decision,” she said.
The shire was then asked what had been done to redress and rectify the “perceived health issues” arising from the design of its “failed” wastewater system at the reserve.
Ms Ellis said, “the current system was not designed for [RV] cassette use, which has caused the issue with the sewerage system.”
The final question was “will the council remove the locked gate which prevents vehicle access by visitors and the local community to the picnic tables?”, to which the answer was, “no”.
The CEO said, “day use of the facility is possible and encouraged”, and that “temporary arrangements (including new signage) have been made to make it clear that camping access is prevented, such as a relocated gate.
“All of the reserve is able to be accessed by foot.”
Dozens of posts on the Connecting to Toora Facebook page along with those of other local community groups continue to express indignation and sadness at the closure of the Franklin River Reserve.
Among the comments are “[the council is] quick to put up a sign instead of fixing the problem … thought the shire was supposed to be promoting tourism in our area”, and “this is so sad and turns people away from our town”.
One post stated “what a waste of a beautiful reserve”, while another wrote “they need to install a dump point – problem solved”.
Limited access to the reserve’s visitor facilities because of the new locked gate was also identified as an issue on social media, with one user remarking “who is going to carry their picnic basket from the car parking area down to the picnic tables and river frontage.”
This post concluded “not to mention that the walk down to the tables is not wheelchair friendly.”
Other comments praised the efforts of local individuals and the members of community organisations such as the Friends of the Franklin River Reserve and the Franklin River Landcare Group who have worked for decades, alongside local and state government, to create and maintain the reserve.