Our National Parks – how should they be used?

The following Ecotourism and National Parks policy has been developed by the National Parks Association of Qld (NPAQ) following an extensive survey of its membership. NPAQ is a non-government, not-for-profit organisation that advocates for the protection, expansion and good management of Queensland’s protected areas and provides opportunities for low-impact outdoor recreation as well as community conservation and citizen science activities. They also publish an excellent, quarterly online magazine, Protected.

Hinchinbrook Island National Park

Ramsay Bay, Hinchinbrook Island National Park. Photo Liz Downes.

Purpose: To outline National Parks Association of Queensland’s (NPAQ) approach to ecotourism facilities and activities in national parks consistent with adherence to the cardinal principal to conserve nature to the greatest possible extent.

Position StatementNPAQ recognises that there is increasing demand for access to national parks for a range of tourism and recreational pursuits. Sensitive, appropriate facilities and activities will likely expand the range of people who connect with, and become more appreciative of natural and cultural values, leading to broader community support for national parks. This can represent a benefit to the park, regional economies and the tourism industry.

Moran's Falls, Lamington NP

Lamington NP. Photo Liz Downes

Inappropriate developments and activities that merely use national parks as a scenic backdrop to their activities can cause detrimental impacts and place undue stress on limited park management resources. Inappropriate developments tend to be exclusive, high-end accommodation where the focus is on food and luxury rather than appreciation of the national park values. Inappropriate activities tend to be adventurous, competitive and thrill-seeking in nature. These are in conflict with the purpose of national parks and will not be supported by NPAQ.

Ecotourism facilities and activities in national parks should have minimal impact and be carefully monitored to ensure that:

  • Conservation and cultural values are central to the activity and not compromised;
  • The integrity of the national park is maintained;
  • Independent visitors’ enjoyment is not infringed.

With ever-increasing pressures on the national park system, any ecotourism facilities or activities within national parks must align with leading practice to avoid degradation of the park values and visitor experience. The Protected Area Estate is less than half the 17% target committed to by the Queensland government. The expansion of ecotourism in national parks should be considered in the context of realistically funded management and long-term commitment to strategic growth of the National Parks Estate. NPAQ’s position is that the following approach must be applied when considering ecotourism developments.

  1. Accommodation is best located adjacent to or near national parks, rather than within. Supporting infrastructure within national parks is to be temporary in nature and suitable for easy removal.
  2. When needed to support genuine ecotourism activities, accommodation within national parks is to be low key, sensitively designed and in harmony with the surrounding landscape.
  3. Servicing of accommodation/facilities is to have minimal impact and be restricted to limited periods to minimise disturbance to wildlife and visitor experience. Mandatory orientation and authentic interpretation is to be provided and reinforced during visitor activities to achieve experiences based upon appreciation and respect of natural and cultural values. All messages and material are to be approved by QPWS.
  4. Infrastructure such as walking tracks and lookouts are to have minimal impact and are to be thoughtfully designed to reflect local conditions of slope, soil, vegetation and visibility
  5. High impact and thrill-seeking activities are not supported or endorsed.
  6. Thorough, transparent and independent impact assessment is to be undertaken with enforceable conditions to ensure natural and cultural values are properly protected.
  7. An upfront bond is provided equal to the full cost of rectifying significant risks, including de- commissioning of infrastructure and rehabilitation.
  8. The activities/facilities environmental effects are monitored, assessed for risk, and reported on an annual basis, including any necessary remedial measures. To be publicly available upon request.
  9. Revenue generated for Government is directed to national parks management and publicly reported.
  10. A cap on visitor numbers is applied based upon ecological resilience and maintaining visitor experience.

NPAQ will refer to the following table as an indicative guide to acceptability of ecotourism proposals in national parks.

High impact with no obvious compatibility with National Park values Potential impacts (depending on details of proposal) Negligible/ low impact and supportive of National Park values
Trail biking Commercial rafting, trail running Guided walks/ board walks/ surface trails
Downhill mountain biking Commercial fixed camp sites Camping in designated areas
Zip-lining/ bungy jumping Soft adventure eg climbing, canoeing, abseiling Guided activities eg bird watching/ nature walks/ cultural interpretation
Adventure 4WD driving Tracks for access to remote sites and facilities Low-key vehicle access to designated sites
Horse riding Accommodation supporting genuine ecotourism activities Education
Competitive events Long-distance touring leisure cycling Photography
Use of drones Canopy walks

 

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