Another classic battle between environmental groups and business interest is shaping up in Victoria which announced on Thursday the opening of its national parks to private tourism development.
Anticipating opposition on the plan from green lobbies, Victoria Treasurer Kim Wells assured pro-environment groups that large hotels would not be allowed to build in the national parks.
Established: 1910 Location: Montana, USA Bordering the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, this scenic national park is popular for hiking and camping activities. Numerous day hiking options are available throughout the park. However, much of the region remains inaccessible to hikers until early June due to the accumulation of heavy snow and due to potential avalanche risk. Nevertheless, the campgrounds at St. Mary and at Apgar are open year round, but conditions are considered primitive in the off-season, as the restroom facilities are closed and there is no running water.
He said the state would ensure a right balance between pushing tourism development and protection of the environment. Mr Wells pointed out that all Australian states and countries with vast tracks of land declared as national parks such as Canada and New Zealand allow private investors to develop in these government-protected areas.
Among the protection are leases will be limited to 90 years, buildings would be low rise, one-third of the wilderness areas in the national parks would be closed for development and developers must be sensitive to the environment, the state minister pointed out.
Environment Minister Ryan Smith was tasked to develop approved guidelines and approving the tourism projects.
The national parks in Victoria bring in more than 250,000 international visitors yearly. By further developing the parks at Wilson Promontory, Port Campbell and Grampians alone, Victoria would benefit $481 million yearly, estimated state Tourism Minister Louise Asher.
However, due to the lack of accommodation facilities in these parks, most of the high-spending international tourists spent just a day and then return to Melbourne at night. With accommodation geared for tourists, the visitors could be convinced to stay longer for several days and spend money which would benefit Victoria economically, Ms Asher said.
"Nature-based tourism is huge. It's growing worldwide and Victoria needs to keep up," Perth Now quoted Ms Asher.
However, Victorian National Parks Association Executive Director Matt Ruchel warned of irreversible damage to the parks with its policy.
":Our parks were not created to end up as building sites for hotels and large-scale infrastructure that can only be used by a privileged few who can afford it. There is a danger of killing the goose that lays the golden egg," Perth Now quoted Mr Ruchell.
"People visit national parks for experiences they can't get elsewhere. They want the opportunity to see the natural world at its best, not hotels and a shopping mall," he added.
A survey by The Age with more than 4,700 respondents found that 81 per cent were against opening the state's parks to private tourism development.
Defending the plan, Mr Wells said, "It will give more visitors, domestic and international, an opportunity to experience our beautiful and unique natural environment and it will ensure Victoria's tourism industry is better able to compete for tourists in the ecotourism market."
Victoria has 13 national parks. These are located at Murray-Sunset, Wyperfield, Little Desert, Greater Bendigo, Gunbower, Kinglake, Grampians, Great Otways, Lower Goulburn, Snowy River, Alpine, Yarra Ranges and Wilsons Prom.
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