The Pilbara’s most popular national park could be partially closed for three months of each year under a State Government proposal.
The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions has begun local consultation on a proposal to close the north-central section of Karijini National Park from December-February — the quietest time of year for tourists — in a bid to improve management and avoid the heightened risks posed by extreme weather events and staff and volunteer shortages typical of that time of year.
Sites subject to the closure would include Banjima West and North roads, Karijini Eco Retreat and the Weano, Joffre, Knox and Kalamina recreation sites, because of their higher flood risk.
A DBCA spokeswoman said during December-February, a combination of high temperatures, increased likelihood of bushfires and flooding in roads and gorges increased risks to visitors in Karijini.
“The partial closure being considered will reduce the risks to visitors in the park during this period,” she said.
The DBCA spokeswoman said it was unlikely the proposal would have a detrimental impact on business in the region because tourists could still access the parts of the park that remained open.
The proposal was rejected by the Shire of Ashburton council last month, with Shire president Kerry White saying the park was too important an attraction to close.
“Council ... resolved not to support Karijini National Park being closed for any period as it is an iconic tourist attraction for the Shire of Ashburton and is of cultural significance to the traditional owners,” she said.
“While visitor numbers are lower during December-February, the park still attracts tourists, particularly international backpackers, during this time.
“Over the summer months, Karijini National Park is also well used by local residents from the neighbouring towns who enjoy swimming in the cool water gorges.”
She said traditional owners and all local tourist operators should be consulted should the DBCA continue to pursue a partial closure of the park.
According to recent Tom Price Visitor Centre figures, the park receives about 4500 visitors in December-February compared to 30-32,000 in June-August.
Several local tourism operators told the Pilbara News they either supported or did not strongly oppose the proposal given the low number of tourists at the park in those months.
Lestok Tours owner Bob Stump, whose business runs guided tours of Karijini, said partly closing the park would not affect his company’s business but he would still prefer the park to be open.
“There are... often good numbers of European visitors at that time of year and it would no doubt have some economic impact in Tom Price should the park be closed,” he said.
Tom Price SES manager Kathryn Honeyfield said the local unit operated on “skeleton staff” over the summer months and closing the more dangerous parts of the park would benefit emergency crews.
The DBCA spokeswoman said the proposal was only a “concept” at this point and the department was consulting stakeholders including traditional owners, the Shire and local tour operators and transport companies.
If the proposal were to be approved, the park would be partially closed from December this year.
A handful of national parks in the Kimberley already close each summer based on weather conditions and bushfire activity.
Those parks include Purnululu National Park (closed December-March), Mitchell River National Park (closed mid-October to early April) and Windjana Gorge National Park (closed from late November).