South Gippsland’s own natural environment, its scenic townships, and especially the people and their community spirit have been identified as the real gems in the final version of a plan to promote the Great Southern Rail Trail (GSRT) to the world.
The Great Southern Rail Trail Visitor Experience and Marketing Plan was formally adopted by the South Gippsland Shire Council at the open meeting held in Leongatha on Wednesday June 29, 2022.
As well as local and visiting Rail Trail users, this Plan also recognises the equal importance of environmental and conservation groups, school groups, service clubs and adjoining landowners, alongside stakeholders, businesses, and residents.
Melbourne branding and design consultancy Cupla Studio helped to develop the 32-page Plan, working alongside council staff, and engaging with the local community, GSRT users from near and far, and regional, state and federal stakeholders.
Seconded by Cr Scott Rae, Cr Clare Williams moved to endorse the Plan, remarking that “when the GSRT is completed, it will be the longest in Victoria.
“The GSRT is the spine of South Gippsland, and it has already shown that it activates our towns,” she said.
Cr Rae agreed, saying that his initial misgivings about the GSRT had been replaced by an understanding of its worth and the need for a dedicated marketing plan.
Shire Mayor Mohya Davies said “the GSRT connects the community in the same way the railway did in the past”, which “developed to serve a dairy farming area”.
The GSRT follows the former path of the Great Southern Railway and currently extends for about 103 kilometres from Loch to Port Welshpool.
The 5.6-kilometre Loch to Nyora section is now under construction and is expected to be open by the end of 2022, while South Gippsland Shire and Wellington Shire have secured funding to fill in the gap between Welshpool and Alberton.
Once complete, the GSRT will cover some 135 kilometres from Nyora to Yarram, supplemented by its branch trails Port Welshpool and Port Albert.
Opportunities to extend the GSRT beyond these points, such as to Anderson and perhaps even as far as Clyde, are subject to support and funding from South Gippsland’s neighbouring municipalities, including Bass Coast, Cardinia, and Casey.
The GSRT is also thought to be part of the Gippsland Odyssey Trail; a key project of the Gippsland Tracks and Trails Feasibility Study and of the Gippsland Destination Management Plan and is a priority for both South Gippsland Shire and the region’s peak advocacy body One Gippsland.
The first sections of the GSRT first came about some years after all train services ended on the Great Southern Railway when the line was formally closed in 1994.
The GSRT’s original branding changed in 2016 when new signage, a website and trail guides were created.
However, its growing length and popularity since then prompted the Shire to call for a new marketing plan in its Visitor Economy Strategy 2021–31, adopted in July 2021, to “capitalise on the product and position the Trail as an iconic tourism asset.”
Developing the 2022 GSRT Plan started in December 2021 and included in-house and external workshops with shire staff, local businesses, stakeholders, interested residents and Trail users, an online community survey, and a review of existing research, plans, and strategies.
The consultants and staff also examined the ways “similar product” (that is, rail trails!) in other parts of Victoria and Australia, as well as overseas, were presented and campaigned.
They looked at who uses the GSRT, for example, whether they were regular, occasional or first-time users; did they live locally, or make a specific journey, or did they discover the Trail when visiting or travelling through South Gippsland.
Ways of improving local and wider awareness of the GSRT, along with suggestions and ideas to improve infrastructure and signage, mapping, interpretation and navigation, as well as how to boost the Trail’s connections to, among and between towns, facilities, services, attractions, providers and operators, were also sought.
The draft document, then known as the GSRT Visitation and Marketing Plan, was exhibited publicly for a fortnight from mid-May to early June, and feedback was invited via written submissions, an online questionnaire and community drop-n sessions.
By the end of the consulting and engagement process more than 400 people had provided their views and comments.
Among the main findings were aligning the promotion of the GSRT with that of South Gippsland, developing the GSRT’s online presence, solving the South Gippsland Highway crossover problem at Leongatha, greater community and business participation, and the need for more accommodation close to the Rail Trail.
A lot of feedback was received about the management of the GSRT itself, including its surface, Trail usage types, user etiquette, signage, seating, bike racks, water fountains, horse yards, toilets, picnic areas, car parking, access points, vegetation maintenance, and weed control.
This information has been collated and will be considered in the development of the draft GSRT Management Plan.
Find the Great Southern Rail Trail Visitor Experience and Marketing Plan on the South Gippsland Shire Council’s website under the Your Council, Council Meetings, Agendas and Meetings, and June 29, 2022 buttons at www.southgippsland.vic.gov.au
For more information about the GSRT’s construction progress see www.southgippsland.vic.gov.au/gsrt/