This is a post I've just published on the Fat Canyoners site (http://fatcanyoners.org/bush-guide/access-through-private-land/) that I thought might be of interest to climbers as well.
Access issues are a major concern, not only for canyoners, but also climbers, bushwalkers, kayakers, etc.
Interestingly, I've also discovered a major threat to our ongoing access to many areas. The NSW Government quietly announced last year that it was going to speed up the process of selling off “paper roads” — those little strips of land that actually allow public access into many areas. According to their announcement, over the next four years they want to finalise the sale of almost 10,000 of these sections of public land to neighbouring landholders.
I'm also really keen to hear any additional thoughts / feedback of ways to manage this issue, and ensure ongoing access through private properties.
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Canyons are all on public land right, so our continued access to them isn’t a problem? Well, the more you canyon, or bushwalk, or do any other outdoor pursuits, the more often you discover that there are many amazing areas that require private land to be crossed to reach them. In fact, it is surprising how many popular places are accessed by crossing private land — with consent — without most people even realising.
But the problem with this is that legally we have no right to be there. The ongoing good behaviour of other canyoners is the only thing sustaining our access, and the actions of one group of idiots could potentially close off large areas. In recent years the canyoning community had to deal with this issue when a new landholder at Mt Tomah closed the long-running access to Claustral — one of the most beautiful canyons in the Blue Mountains. After two years an alternative has been found, but it certainly caused a lot of angst during that time.
Interestingly, it seems this problem is only going to become a bigger one. The NSW Government quietly announced last year that it was going to speed up the process of selling off “paper roads” — those little strips of land that actually allow public access into many areas. According to their announcement, over the next four years they want to finalise the sale of almost 10,000 of these sections of public land to neighbouring landholders. (Read the media release and a fact sheet on how you can purchase this public land.)
All this means two things for people like us, who love visiting wilderness areas. Firstly, we need to put some pressure on the government to ensure existing access by bushwalkers and canyoners is considered in any land sales (which can be as simple as sending a letter to your local MP). Secondly, we need to look at how we interact with private landholders in key areas to ensure we create cooperative relationships that can sustain future access. Unfortunately, gaining permission to cross private land looks like something that will increasingly be required.
The origin of this post was actually an email I sent to the OzCanyons group, but I’ve expanded it substantially based on the feedback I received. In fact, this was something I had been meaning to write for a while but was finally inspired by Adrian’s four day exploratory trip over the Australia Day long weekend. His trip to some remote wilderness canyons around Numietta Creek in the northern Wollemi — like many in this region — required access through private property.
For a huge distance north of Glen Davis, the western boundary of the Wollemi is bordered by private property. Even where there are fire trails, they often have locked gates and also traverse through private land. As in the case of the old Claustral access route, this can only be done with the consent of landowners.
While the number of canyoners heading into this area is still relatively small, it is growing, and the actions of each group can have profound impacts on how future canyoners are treated by local landholders. Given people in country areas like this generally know each other, one stuff up has the potential to have all of us locked out of huge areas. On the other side, concerted efforts to do the right thing will pay dividends, and confirm that canyoners are good people and can be trusted. It is something we all need to play a part in.
Interestingly, this situation is technically the same for some of our most popular canyons. As Peter Raines reminded me, access tracks to many of the Mt Wilson canyons also cross private property and some of these access tracks have had problems with owners at various times. Like Claustral, if these properties are sold, subdivided, or developed in future, these new owners could decide they do not want canyoners crossing their land.
Much of the exit track for Wollangambe 2 is on private property (pretty much once you’re on the basalt soil it is all private property). The Northern Fire Trail, which runs from the Cathedral of Ferns back to the Wollangambe 1 exit also crosses the bottom of about 10 private properties — including one belonging to someone that has previously tried stop walkers using this track. The Mill Road / Southern Fire Trail access to Bowens Creek North Canyon also crosses private property for several kilometres.
Recently, I received an enquiry from someone looking for contact details for certain properties in the Numietta area. This got me thinking a bit more about the appropriate ethics, and practicalities, of crossing private land. To get a better perspective on it I had a more substantial conversation with a local to clarify their feelings, and a few things came out of it:
1) Private landholders in these areas are genuinely concerned about our welfare. Over the years they have seen countless searches — and even body removals — involving outdoor enthusiasts. Given that, a strange car left in their paddock for several days is a great worry.
2) They have been burnt in the past by outdoor enthusiasts. In recent times the owners of The Nile received a commendation from several government agencies for their work in a rescue. Despite the seriousness of the incident, and their efforts, the “victims” apparently never even made contact to offer a simple thanks. You can imagine how that kind of behaviour went down!
3) Canyoners and bushwalkers need to remember that these properties are not only people’s businesses, they are also their homes. Understanding it is someone’s “backyard” (yes, it’s a *&%$#! big yard), means treating it as you expect your own yard to be treated. How many of us would like cars left in our yard, or strangers traipsing through without warning?
4) Many people who access these properties without consent are actually up to no good. Many of these landholders have problems with hoons illegally hunting or driving 4WD vehicles on their properties. Given that, any strangers are legitimately considered high risk.
5) There are a number of property owners who are already pissed off. The owners of Numietta do not want anyone going on their land, including canyoners. Other families have been previously burnt, including by having their contact details or property details published online (I won’t name them, because that will only inflame their concerns).
6) Even those who are happy to facilitate our enquiries are concerned that they will be overrun by people going canyoning every weekend. Their fear is that with growing numbers, sooner or later something will go amiss and spoil it for everyone.
So what can we, as canyoners and bushwalkers, do to protect access to these canyons and prevent a repeat of the Claustral access situation?
Personally, I think there are a couple of really simple rules worth following that will hopefully create positive relationships and confirm that we outdoorsy folk are actually good people who treat local landholders, and the bush, with respect:
1) If at all possible, plan your route