Park status need for Ginninderra Falls: The Canberra Times Editorial, 28 December 2015

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CanTimes_20151228_1.jpgGinninderra Falls owner, Anna Hyles, is fed up with the swarm of teenagers trespassing on her property and is worried more people will hurt themselves.Photo: Jamila Toderas

It might be one of Canberra's most spectacular scenic attractions, and right on the city's doorstep, but living near Ginninderra Falls has proved a mixed blessing for the Hyles family.

Their property adjoining the falls represents the only practical way in and out for intending visitors. And, for a time, the family actively promoted their "backyard" attraction as a tourist park. Up to 30,000 people a year made their way to the falls via the Hyles' property during the heyday of the tourist operation.

Ginninderra Falls has been called "the jewel in the crown" of Canberra.

Ginninderra Falls has been called "the jewel in the crown" of Canberra. Photo: Jamila Toderas

But after public liability insurance coverage was denied in 2004, the family decided to block public access.

Despite this wise precaution, people continue to make their way to the site, in defiance of the family's wishes and, sometimes, of common sense. Entry and egress can be problematic, particularly in the wet, and a few people have been injured in the past, some seriously.

From the family's viewpoint, however, the worst aspects of this traffic are the threats that some people feel compelled to make after being told to leave. That and the rubbish they leave behind.

The Hyles are not alone in despairing at this less-than-ideal situation. Community groups, notably the Ginninderra Falls Association, have been campaigning for years to set the area aside as a national park, and for proper boardwalks, railings, rubbish bins and other facilities to be installed. Progress toward that end has been slow, however, partly because the area borders NSW.

Any solution, therefore, must be agreeable not just to the ACT government and National Capital Authority, but the NSW government and the Yass Valley Council. And, of course, the Hyles themselves.

In June 2012, the association persuaded then Chief Minister Kay Gallagher of the merits of creating a 900-hectare national park encompassing the Murrumbidgee and Ginninderra gorges, covering 700ha in NSW and the 200ha Woodstock Nature Reserve in the ACT.

However, despite Ms Gallagher's commitment to "work" with NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell and Yass Valley Council mayor Nic Carmody, progress was limited. But events since then – notably a proposal for a new suburb west of Belconnen, which will straddle the ACT and NSW borders and come close to the Ginninderra Gorge – has lent added urgency for the gazettal of national park status for the falls and the surrounding gorges.

The Riverview Group, the developer behind the proposed new suburb of Parkwood, has suggested establishing a trust, financed by some of the proceeds of the land sales, to manage the Murrumbidgee River and Ginninderra Creek corridors. It's not a governance model that's universally supported, but it's a useful starting point for discussion.

However, until a national park with defined boundaries becomes a reality, the talk of conservation and management remains somewhat moot. Delays mean the Hyles will go on being plagued by anti-social ruffians. And, more crucially, law-abiding Territorians will continue to be locked out of a scenic wonder once known as "Canberra's Kakadu".

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