Kevin Evans, Interim President NPA Coffs Coast Branch
The Great Koala National Park has been one of NPA’s priority campaigns for the last 6 years. The idea was born at the Bellingen Environment Centre (BEC) as their logical local response to the Koala Crisis. NPA and BEC stalwart Ashley Love, helped identify 175,000 hectares of State Forest that would be added to existing protected areas in the Coffs Harbour Hinterland to form a new 315,000 Great Koala National Park. At that point these forests were thought to be home for 20% of the NSW Koala population.
Support has grown as more stakeholders become aware of the scope and potential for the GKNP to benefit the mid north.
After presentation to Bellingen Shire Council, Coffs Harbour Council and Nambucca Valley Council in 2017, the Bellingen Council passed a motion in support of the proposal.
Although conservation benefits of the GKNP are indisputable, an economic value of the proposal had not been prosecuted. Bellingen Shire Council has since provided funding to conduct an economic assessment of the GKNP proposal. Coffs Harbour Council later matched this as did Destination NSW (North Coast). Bellingen Shire Council will take the lead on the economic assessment on behalf of the funding partners. We are hopeful that Nambucca and Kempsey Councils will also contribute. The report should be completed in mid 2020.
The Urunga Visitor Information Centre was launched in 1997. Back then, the Pacific Highway went directly past the centre and visitation was high. Fast forward to 2019 and the rerouting of the Pacific highway has resulted in a significant drop in attendance.
Council had struggled to keep the centre open and so they approached the GKNP steering committee offering us exclusive use of the centre as a base for GKNP advocacy as long as we continue to provide general visitors with tourist information. The rebranded centre now called the Great Koala National Park Information Visitor Centre opened on December 16.
NPA designed the GKNP displays at the centre. A grant of $5K from Bellingen Council funded their manufacture and installation. Our priority is to build support for the GKNP concept, add names to the petition and fundraise for our continued advocacy. Since opening, 900 people have visited the centre and feedback has been amazing. We have 80 volunteers registered to staff the Visitors Centre 7 days a week. The Steering Committee has also secured our first corporate sponsorship from a local business called Affirmations Publishing House. The team at Affirmations are very enthusiastic for the proposal, providing $15K in cash and merchandise for us to sell.
This unique partnership between three community based environment groups and local government is laying the foundations for a successful outcome. The National Parks Association (Coffs Coast Branch), Nambucca Valley Conservation Association and Bellingen Environment Centre wish to thank our new sponsor Affirmations Publishing house and the staff and councillors at Bellingen Shire Council for their support and encouragement.