THE closed Bridle Track is costing tourist dollars and business, say worried residents of Hill End.
Councillor Monica Morse raised the matter at a recent Bathurst Regional Council policy meeting, saying the Hill End community is not happy because of falling tourism numbers.
Accommodation provid-ers, publicans and storekeepers in the historic village all have the same story: they want the track back as soon as possible.
A landslide at Monaghan’s Bluff closed the Bridle Track – a favourite drive for adventurers – in 2010.
“There is not a soul in Hill End who wouldn’t like to see that road fixed,” Ian Hodgson of Hill End Ranch said.
He estimates business in the village has dropped by between a half and two-thirds since drivers found themselves unable to take the track.
“The road itself was a significant tourist attraction, so this has made a big dent in tourist numbers, I tell you,” he said.
“It was one of the most beautiful stretches of river that you could drive alongside. That’s why people wanted to drive it – because it is so beautiful down there.
“People came to drive along the river and camp out, but now they can’t get through. Instead of being able to make a loop through Hill End, they have to go twice as far just to go back the way they came.
“This doesn’t just affect Hill End, but Bathurst too, because they are not getting the through traffic.”
Mr Hodgson has been at the ranch for 11 years, and in Hill End for 19 years.
He used to own the general store and said there was a time when it was nothing to sell one thousand bags of ice over the course of a long weekend.
“On long weekends – Easter, October, June, Anzac Day – and holidays, hundreds of people would come to drive the Bridle Track and camp,” Mr Hodgson said.
“You don’t see that anymore and it worries us.”
Wendi Burgess from the Royal Hotel said the Bridle Track was always a favourite with four- wheel drivers, but now “they go somewhere else”.
“It would be very beneficial to us if the road was re-opened. And I know a lot of visitors would love to see that happen, too,” she said.
Aimee Bowman – who owns the Hill End General Store and Cafe, which is the only cafe in the village – has also noticed a drop in business.
“People come to Hill End for an adventure,” she said.
“Now with that boulder there, cars can’t get through and it is too dangerous for bikes to go around it, so people have to go via Sofala. They want to be able to do a circuit.
“It has directly affected the number of bike groups we used to get.”
She said Hill End gets a lot of visitors from Sydney and the Blue Mountains, but people come from all over Australia.
“A lot of people do call up to find out if the road is open yet,” Ms Bowman said.
The Bridle Track will receive some upgrades, although council has no plans to open it due to the stabilisation work needed.
Director of engineering Doug Patterson said $150,000 has been set aside for road re-alignment at Stoney Creek and a further $150,000 will be used to widen the road at various points.
All work will be carried out on the Bathurst end of the track.