Bellingen Shire Chamber of Commerce is hosting a community briefing on the proposed Great Koala National Park.
Members of the public are encouraged to come along to the Bellingen Memorial Hall on March 6 to hear more about the potential conservation and economic benefits of adding 175,000 hectares of state forests to existing national parks in our area.
"Now that the state election is looming large, many people in our community want to find out more about what this big idea means for them and their business," said Kevin Evans, who is president of the Coffs Coast branch of the National Parks Association of NSW.
"What we know ahead of the election is that the state Labor Opposition and Greens NSW strongly back the proposal, but it's not currently supported by the Coalition government. We also know that a recent newspaper poll saw the Great Koala National Park head a long list of proposals nominated by readers as projects they would like a new state government to deliver."
Mr Evans pointed out that the last time a large national park was declared from state forests was in 2010 when the Keneally Government protected the River Red Gums within a new 42,000 hectare Murray Valley National Park.
"The state government allocated $100m for local businesses to transition from logging to align with the new protected area," he said.
"Since 2012 tourism to the Murray Valley region has grown significantly with an additional 557,000 overnight visitors and the creation of 4,569 tourism related jobs, according to the Murray Regions Destination Management Plan. Nature-based tourism relating to the protected areas is a huge factor in that success."
He said that if well planned, the Great Koala National Park, which the NSW Parliamentary Office estimates would cost $150-200m to create, would support existing and new local businesses to emerge.
"If this big bold idea is to be a success, we must as a community back the proposal now and start investing effort to develop proposals that could align well with it. The good news is many locals are already on the front foot with ideas and draft concepts."
For example, plans for a 215km world class walking trail and 4WD, mountain biking and horse riding trails are all in the pipeline.
The briefing on Wednesday March 6 at Bellingen Memorial Hall will be presented by members of the local steering committee for the Great Koala National Park and will run from 4pm-5.30pm.