Horse riders win access to historic tracks

Horse riders will be given access to historic bridle-tracks in two of the South Coast’s wilderness areas as part of a pilot program announced this week.

NSW Environment Minister Robyn Parker has released a plan for horse riding in National Parks, which will guide decisions about how to provide better, sustainable horse riding in parks.

“The strategy identifies eight priority regions of NSW as the focus for new horse riding opportunities,” Ms Parker said.

“These are the Far South Coast, Southern Ranges, Blue Mountains, Metropoli-tan North East, Central Coast, Hunter Ranges, Lower North Coast the Northern Tablelands and Northern Rivers.”

As well as the priority regions, the strategy also provides for carefully monitored and limited horse riding pilot programs in five wilderness locations, including the Deua and Wadbilliga National Parks.

Bega MP Andrew Constance welcomed the news, saying the proposed routes in the wilderness pilot included the historic convict-built bridle track, the Shoebridge Track in Monga National Park, and historic bridle-tracks traversing the Burra-Oulla and Woila-Deua wilderness areas within the Deua and Wadbilliga national parks.

Peter Smith, a spokesman for Access for All, a local group supporting access by horse riders to bridle-tracks in national parks, described the announcement as “a real win”.

“These bridle-tracks are not just a nice ride - some are historic and date back to the 1830s when they were based on the old Aboriginal tracks,” Mr Smith said.

“They’re an important part of the region’s cultural heritage and if they don’t get used and maintained, they will disappear. This decision will preserve them for future generations.” 

However the Greens have attacked the move, with environment spokeswoman Cate Faehrmann saying the government was simply trying to appease anti-environment forces.

“How low can they go?” she said. 

“This just shows Barry O’Farrell and Robyn Parker have zero respect for the integrity of national parks and would prefer to put the interests of their Upper House allies ahead of genuine environmental concerns. 

“This decision is contrary to the management principles specified in the NSW Wilderness Act which restricts use to ‘self-reliant recreation’. Using horses is not self-reliant. What’s next – 4WDs?

“There is a reason the National Parks and Wildlife Service refers to horses as ‘pest animals’. Horses introduce weeds through seeds excreted in their faeces, their hooves cause soil erosion and introduced species erode habitat for natives.”

Mr Constance said encouraging sustainable horse riding was another step in fulfilling the government’s election commitment to provide more opportunities for more people to experience national parks - while at the same time safeguarding the environment.

“It is about balancing recreational opportunities so people can better understand and appreciate our wonderful national parks and reserves and at the same time ensuring the unique values of our parks remain protected,” Mr Constance said. 

Ms Parker said the NPWS had allocated $150,000 to help deliver new horse riding opportunities between now and June 2013.

Plans of management for the five national parks will need to be amended before the two-year pilot begins.

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