ROAD SYSTEMS IN NATIONAL PARKS

NATIONAL PARKS ASSOCIATION OF NSW INC

POLICY No 4, September 1984

| INTRODUCTION | DEFINITIONS | POLICY | GUIDELINES | DESTINATION | ROUTING & SITING | CONSTRUCTION

Introduction

The generally accepted definitions of a national park (e.g. IUCN, CONCOM) stress the need for minimum interference with natural conditions. Perhaps the ideal national park would have no roads at all. Certainly most of our NSW national parks already have too many roads, and additional roading should in general be avoided. Few, if any, roads have been located and made according to any plan of management for the park. As a step towards the correction of this situation, and with particular reference to hitherto roadless areas and areas traversed by undedicated and unformed roads and track, the National Parks Association of NSW Inc offers this policy statement for consideration.

The policy is based on the premise that opportunities to enjoy limited parts of our national parks with the aid of motor vehicles should be extended to the public, offering the use only of those roads which have been designated in the management plan as for general public use. A carefully explained policy of minimising roads in national parks will do much to educate people as to the appropriate use of national parks and encourage them to use their legs instead of their cars. Non-public, management roads should also be minimised, and NPA's existing policy on Fire Management in Natural Areas opposes the provision of roads in National Parks purely for fire management purposes.

Present roads in National parks do not necessarily reflect the specific nature and purposes of national parks. In most cases they are simply the roads and vehicular tracks that were there before declaration of the park. Where new roads are to be provided, they should be carefully planned as a vital aspect of the management plan. Conversely, existing roads for which such a plan has made no provision should be closed and revegetated. The plan should also be so detailed as to provide for the most careful routing and construction so as to minimise the impact of the roads on park values of all kinds - ecological, scenic and recreational values, and the value of rarity in any form. Such roads will be evidence of sound, rational planning for national parks.

Limitations on provisions for public motor vehicle access are necessary if only to remove the possibility of the managing authority, perhaps under pressure, designating unsuitable roads as public in order to legitimise sectional use, for example, by 4-wheel drive vehicles. The latter was proposed in the draft plan for the management of Kosciusko National Park, but abandoned in the final plan.

Definitions

For the purposes of this policy statement:

A national park is "... a relatively large area set aside for its features of predominantly unspoiled natural landscape, flora and fauna, permanently dedicated for public enjoyment, education and inspiration, and protected from all interference other than essential management practices, so that its natural attributes are preserved". (Fourth Australian Ministerial Conference on National Parks, 1970).

A road is any formed access provided for the passage of conventional vehicles on land.

A park road is a road, provided within a national park, on which 4-wheeled or other vehicles may be driven by the general public.

A management road is a road, provided within a national park, for the use of the management authority for essential management purposes, and from which the public is excluded from driving vehicles except under emergency conditions.

POLICY

The following policy should be applied to both existing and proposed national parks:

1. The only roads provided in a national park should be those included in a statutory plan of management approved by the Minister.

2. In the temporary absence of an approved plan of management, the provision, including construction, of a new road should be regarded as a significant activity within the meaning of Part V of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act (NSW), 1979, and should therefore be the subject of an environmental impact statement before such provision can be considered.

3. When a draft plan of management is prepared, all existing roads within a national park should be assessed to determine whether or not their continued existence accords with the usage planned for the park. Roads which do not so accord should be closed and revegetated.

4. Roads in national parks may be provided for both public use and for use by the management authority for essential management purposes, and should be separately classified as for one purpose or the other.

5. All park roads should be open to the public as a while, using conventional registered vehicles. No exclusive provision for sectional use, e.g. for 4- wheel drive and trail bike users, fishermen and scientific and educational parties, should be made. 6. Management roads must be closed to the general public (except under certain emergency circumstances) by effective methods, but may be made available for the use of approved government, semi-government, public utility (where necessary to service existing facilities, and with due reference to guidelines), scientific, or emergency service vehicles.

7. Management roads should not be provided solely for the purpose of fire management and fire fighting. Firebreaks for the purpose of controlling prescribed fire can be provided by judicious construction of trittered strips or hand-tooled tracks, avoiding exposure of the soil.

8. Roads in national parks should be minimally provided. They should be short, unobtrusive, peripheral, and their impact on the natural environment in all respects should be minimised by careful routing, siting and construction.

9. Road access should not be provided to or through rare of fragile environments, ecosystems, communities, or the habitats of rare or endangered species of plants and animals.

10. No road should either be constructed or be permitted to remain in a designated wilderness or designated roadless area.

11. Subject to 8, 9 and 10 above, park roads should provide access to samples of the park's environmental types (e.g. forest, heath, wetland, beach/dune), scenic types (e.g. panoramas, cliffs, forests, waterfalls), observable wildlife, and recreational opportunities (e.g. beach, river, mountain, cave, snowfield). Not all habitat types need necessarily be sampled.

12. When determining the destination, routing, siting and construction of both park and management roads, regard should be paid to the guidelines appended to this policy.

13. No vehicle driven by a member of the public should be permitted off park roads.

GUIDELINES

The following are suggested as guides to an expansion of the policies listed above. They are divided into three main headings, and deal with the principal factors which should be taken into account when planning road systems in national parks.

DESTINATION

1. The number of destinations for vehicles governs the number of roads provided. Within the limits enumerated in the above policies, provision to allow the public the use of motor vehicles in national parks should have a positive approach. The aim should be to facilitate a vehicle-assisted park experience which has a minimal impact upon the park as a whole, while nevertheless enabling a broad appreciation of what the park contains. Some value judgement as to what constitutes adequacy of this provision will be unavoidable; there is no absolute criterion. As far as possible, the sampling should cover a small and compact area. The obviously undesirable alternative would be a road to every vantage point, with the system covering a major proportion of the park's area.

2. The rights of the motoring public should not exceed those of the walking public where there is competition for access to scarce park features, etc. Walkers must have priority in a national park.

3. The termination point of an access road should be chosen with great care. In most cases, cars should be stopped out of sight of the objective and from other parts of the park except the immediate vicinity.

ROUTING AND SITING

The route of a road to its destination, and the siting of individual sections of road, should be the result of careful consideration of a number of factors:

A. Routing

1. Routes should be peripheral rather than deeply penetrating into the park. This follows from the desirability of maximising the wilderness qualities of any national park, or conversely, of minimising human interference with natural conditions.

2. Roads should not be routed through swamps or marshes or other wetlands, along river banks, or through foredunes to park beaches. They should not traverse coastal headlands, or be located parallel and close to the coast. Where lowland crossings by causeway are unavoidable, care should be taken to facilitate the maintenance of water flow, allow for the passage of floodwaters, etc.

3. Subject to 2 above, park roads should generally be routed through abundant environmental types, not disturbing the rarer environments.

B. Siting

1. Roads should be screened as far as possible from external sight and hearing, consistently with Policies 8, 9 and 10 above. Natural forest cover and topography should be used to advantage, consistent with the observation of the above constraints, in siting for low visibility. Routes permitting such favourable siting should, other factors permitting, be chosen in preference to those which are significantly exposed, e.g. along narrow ridge-tops or on hillsides where massive cut and fill would be required.

2. Roads should, as far as possible, be sited so as to avoid the necessity for cuttings. Where these are unavoidable, a balanced cut and fill should be the aim. Grades should, of course, be within the climbing and adhesion capabilities of ordinary 2-wheel drive vehicles.

3. Where possible, roads should sited so as to blend with any "grain" or pattern of the country, e.g. major joint patters, dendritic ridge formations, parallel sand dunes, etc. Roads should be taken around the foot of a spur rather than cut across it.

4. Significant animal routes and paths used in migration or for other purposes should be avoided in road routing and siting.

5. Foot track systems should be integrated with road systems. This does not mean that they should parallel each other. In fact, for the most part they probably should not do so. But one should be considered with the other in relation to access, destination, disturbance, campsites, etc.

CONSTRUCTION

Construction methods should minimise severe impacts and provide stability for roads. As in routing and siting, a number of factors must be considered: grading, cuttings, stability, erosion run-off and silt-trapping, surfaces, bridges, weed control, revegetation of batters, etc. These overlap somewhat with the routing and siting factors above.

Stability and erosion control are standard requirements. Bridges should be built in keeping with the local characteristics of the park, by careful siting and preferably the use of local building materials. Park and management roads should sit on the landscape in preference to ploughing through it. Ease of driving (as distinct from safety provision) should be a secondary consideration. Speed is, in any case, undesirable in a national park. A good firm, stable, smooth, non-corrugated and non-potholed road, preferably sealed in some cases, is desirable to combat dust and the likelihood of breakdowns, to minimise road noise, and make for more enjoyable experiences of the park by drivers and passengers alike. A further reason is that there should be less likelihood of the need for disturbance by road maintenance works.

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