THE walking and cycling track along the Murray River would expand to cover the length from Red Cliffs to Yelta if the Coalition are returned to government at the federal election.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Member for Mallee Anne Webster this week announced a $13.5 million election commitment for the project.
It’s part of the Murray River Adventure Trail, which was hoped to eventually link up trails all the way from Wentworth to Wodonga.
Mildura Rural City Council, which would receive the funds to deliver the project, hoped the trail would help the region capitalise on a boom in eco tourism.
Mr Joyce said the project was expected to attract about 75,000 annual visitors a year to Mildura and generate up to $3 million of economic activity.
He confirmed the funding was tied to the election and was not included in last month’s Budget.
“This is something that really says to not only Mildura, but says to Victoria, that your standard of living here is something that can be an envy of other areas and something that attracts people out,” he said.
“People need a focus point, and this has the capacity to bring tens of thousands of people into this area − especially tourists.”
Dr Webster said it would be a boost for tourism and locals alike.
“I love being down here on the river, walking with family, walking with friends − for those who are energetic, riding bikes − and physical activities of course are incredibly great for our nation,” she said.
Mildura Council have been working with other Murray River councils on the broader project and would use a similar approach to the first stage of the trail further upstream.
Council CEO Martin Hawson said it could take some years for the Red Cliffs to Yelta portion to be complete, given the amount of planning that would be needed.
“Our experience with these types of trails, you are reliant on a lot of third parties and that does tend to stretch out the timeframe, but once we’ve got the money we’ll get into doing those,” he said.
Mr Hawson said the council would work with First Peoples to ensure the project celebrated culture and heritage.
He said the council would also seek further funding from other sources to develop “icon sites” along the trail, which could put a focus on sites with cultural, recreation or historic significance.
“Obviously we can’t do (the entire Wentworth to Wodonga project) in one hit, but this is a fantastic fillip to get this really going and really kick the project off at the northern end,” he said.
“What it will provide is a continuous path where we will really develop something iconic, that will obviously attract tourists but it will also be a great asset for the locals as well.”
Mildura Mayor Liam Wood welcomed the funding pledge.
“We all know that eco tourism is a booming industry and, hopefully by the figures we’re talking about, $3 million annually to the bottom line of the region, in excess of 75,000 people coming to the region,” he said.
“We all know how much of an asset the river and the riverfront is and this is just another feather in the cap.”
Labor, who last week announced Carole Hart as their Mallee candidate, were yet to make public any election commitments within the electorate.
United Australia Party and their Mallee candidate Stuart King this week pledged to build a new bridge for Swan Hill in the event they form government.