FRUSTRATED rural residents say the Nationals risk a backlash at the next state election if the Bridle Track between Bathurst and Hill End isn’t reopened.
Seven years after the track was closed after a landslide at Monaghan’s Bluff, the Bridle Track Action Group has turned its attention to state member Paul Toole because the group’s members say they can’t convince Bathurst Regional Council to do the work.
Mr Toole, though, says he is happy to work with council on its rural roads priorities, but it is up to council to come up with those priorities.
The Bridle Track Action Group published an open letter to Mr Toole in the Western Advocate earlier this month reminding him that it was the seventh anniversary of the closure of the track, which was once a favourite with four-wheel drivers.
The group’s Steve Alexander said on Friday that council had put the reopening of the road “in the too-hard basket”.
Mr Alexander, who lives opposite two of the campgrounds along the track, said the route provided vital access in times of emergencies.
“If there is a really bad fire out there, residents would get trapped, because the escape route is closed,” he said.
“Monaghan's Bluff is very steep. There is no way you could drive across a paddock to escape a fire.”
But quite apart from the safety aspect, he said the track used to bring business to Bathurst and Hill End because of its popularity with campers, anglers and four-wheel drive enthusiasts and it was part of the district’s history.
“There is a lot of talk about the value of heritage tourism to Bathurst,” he said.
He said one of the reasons the group was targeting Mr Toole was the fact the NSW Government was “spending money like there’s no tomorrow”.
“And this is a petty cash project,” he said.
Mr Alexander said the group already had its eye on the 2019 state election and reminded the Nationals of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers’ upset success in the Orange by-election last year.
He said there was an “army of people” in the four-wheel drive community that could be called upon for support in the lead-up to the election.
In response, Mr Toole said council’s “priority and their policy” has been to have a sealed road to all villages in the local government area.
“So council has been sealing roads from Eglinton to Hill End and from Sofala to Hill End. This has seen millions of dollars put into this road, from council, the State Government and Federal Government,” he said. “It was a priority due to the fact school buses travel these roads as well as many locals.”
Mr Toole said he had raised the matter of the Bridle Track with council on behalf of residents, but it was not clear to him whether the track would be safe from future cracking if was repaired or whether council needed to look at buying some private land for an alternative track.
”I have raised that with council - whether or not it's possible to look at an alternative track in that vicinity where the road has actually fallen,” he said.
“I'll continue to talk to council, continue to get their priorities for the area and will continue to lobby for what the priorities are that council wants to put forward.”