The Mirror News

Windfall for waterfall

AGNES Falls Scenic Reserve is to receive $180,000 in state government funding to improve visitor facilities, with the works expected to be completed as soon as the next few months.

The planned improvements include the installation of a new toilet block and a visitor shelter. A site master plan will also be developed that will include options for an improved lookout area to view the falls and details to help guide the reserve’s future management.

No-one is more delighted with the announcement, made in recent days by the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Ryan Smith, than the secretary of the Friends of Agnes Falls, Kathy Whelan, and her partner, Peter Lee.

Ms Whelan and Mr Lee have lobbied for more than ten years for improvements to the scenic reserve at the falls, and were instrumental in the establishment of the Friends group last year.

The couple’s long-held belief in the importance of Agnes Falls was vindicated in 2010-11 when the Toora Community Plan identified the falls as a valuable tourism asset worthy of investment in order to increase visitor numbers. Ms Whelan volunteered to be the project leader looking after the falls, and under the auspices of Parks Victoria, which manages Agnes Falls Scenic Reserve, the Friends group was established.

South Gippsland Shire Council, said Ms Whelan, has been very supportive of Agnes Falls in recent years. It has included the attraction on its list of priority projects, and just last week it announced funding of $7,425 in the form of a community grant for an economic analysis study.

At 59 metres, Agnes Falls are reputed to be the highest single span falls in Victoria.

They are particularly spectacular after heavy rain, but all through the year the falls and their wooded picnic reserve attract visitors. A count of traffic over the five weeks from Christmas 2011 to the end of January 2012 indicated that as many as 3000 cars (extrapolating to 6000 or so people) visited the falls.

“Agnes Falls Scenic Reserve is one of South Gippsland’s most popular tourist attractions,” Mr Smith said. “This investment will ensure the much-loved reserve can continue to be enjoyed by the many visitors who come here throughout the year, and that its beautiful natural environment remains protected in the future.”

The funding was allocated by the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority through the Victorian government’s $1 billion Regional Growth Fund.

Deputy Premier and Member for Gippsland South Peter Ryan acknowledged the collaborative efforts that were made to secure the funding.

“I’d like to congratulate the Friends of Agnes Falls who worked closely with Parks Victoria and the South Gippsland Shire Council to develop these new facilities,” Mr Ryan said.

“This is an exciting outcome for the community and visitors who enjoy the reserve. It demonstrates the great work that can be done when agencies and community groups work in partnership to enhance and protect our environment for the benefit of all.”

The works are expected to be completed by the end of the year.

“As well as receiving a South Gippsland Shire community grant, the Friends group was also recently successful in receiving some sponsorship from the Toora & District Community Bank Branch and Foster branch of the Bendigo Bank for a large banner to be used for promotion of the falls and the Friends group, and informative postcards. Thank you! These will be ordered soon,” said Ms Whelan. “Once available, the banner will be used at all future displays that the Friends undertake at local events and shows in the area, as well as at working bees at the Agnes Falls Scenic Reserve. The postcards will be distributed widely at information centres, caravan parks, B&Bs and the like, to promote the falls to visitors in the area.”

Peter Lee has constructed a picnic table and benches which will shortly be installed beside the car park at the top of the reserve. Other picnic tables and benches will be built to a Parks Victoria design and put in place around the reserve.

Mr Lee and Ms Whelan are also looking forward to having designated parking spaces and improved signage at the reserve and on the roads leading to Agnes Falls. Eventually they would like to see a cantilevered extension to one of the lookouts (or a new lookout altogether) at the falls, so that they can be viewed in their awesome entirety.

The $180,000 from the state government, they say, is a very welcome boost to efforts to improve Agnes Falls Scenic Reserve.

“We’re absolutely delighted,” said Ms Whelan. “This will mean a better experience for visitors to the falls. A new picnic shelter was identified a long time ago as necessary, particularly on those days, which we do occasionally get in South Gippsland (!) when the weather is not so good.”

In recent months the Friends group, which numbers 40 financial members, has planted native grasses and appropriate shrubs at the reserve. Another working bee is planned for August 10, beginning at 10am, weather permitting. Anyone who is interested is welcome to attend.

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