By Raquel Mustillo
NARACOORTE Lucindale mayor Erika Vickery has welcomed a proposal by neighbouring Wattle Range Council to link the caves to cabernet via a shared-use rail trail.
Naracoorte Lucindale Council is currently developing a 16km connecting the Naracoorte township and the world-heritage listed Naracoorte Caves to strengthen the high-quality visitor experiences offered in the region.
At last month’s council meeting, Wattle Range elected members voted in support of a proposal to transform 16km of Coonawarra’s disused rail line into a shared-use cycling and walking trail.
The first stage of the project is expected to cost $800,000 and will be funded by a Federal Government grant, with plans to ultimately link Penola and Naracoorte in the future.
Ms Vickery said construction on Naracoorte Lucindale Council’s cycling and walking trail has been completed in stages and additional routes and themes will be developed over time.
She said the trail, which starts at the town centre, will be attractive for community members as a health and wellbeing asset as well as an important educational resource through the development of interpretive signage.
“One of the major projects Naracoorte Lucindale Council has been working on is developing a linkage between the town and the caves, which we hope will provide increased offerings for visitors and retain them in the region for longer,” she said.
“The one we have done from the town centre through to the caves has been done on some road reserves and some state forestry land.
“The route has been chosen because there is a diversity of scenery, there are some open space areas, pine area and bushlands, and it is also low risk for users because it is seperate from vehicular traffic.
“Part of the trail we have already built is quite wide and allows two to three people to ride abreast, so families are able to ride along side their children.
“It gives us all a recreational opportunity to help with health and wellbeing and gives people an opportunity to safely ride without having to share it with vehicles.”
While acknowledging the caves to cabernet plan was still in its infancy, Ms Vickery said a regional trail would provide significant economic potential for the Limestone Coast.
“A trail from Naracoorte to the caves right through to Penola would be a fabulous linkage and as councils and the Limestone Coast Local Government Association we have looked at it,” she said.
“What we have decided across the councils is that we will be responsible for developing the trails across our own council areas and we will work together to link them up.
“There has been some discussion about how we connect the caves to Coonawarra and it would require a lot of planning as we would need to link it across the Riddoch Highway.”
Ms Vickery said any rail trail challenges would be mitigated by the potential of facilitating new businesses, with the trail encouraging increased visitation and longer stays.
“The whole idea of doing these trails is it gives us a recreational opportunity to help with health and wellbeing, but it also helps our tourism sector and has significant economic benefits,” she said.
“It is another thing for people to do in our area.
“There is a real opportunity for tourism experiences to be developed because of the trail, for example someone might create a package for people to cycle from Naracoorte to the caves, to Penola and then to Mount Gambier.
“As a council, we can also help our existing industries such as the hospitality industry which has been hardest hit by COVID through projects such as this and now is the time to make this happen.”