Community group Friends of the Bendigo Kilmore Rail Trail believes the timing is right to construct a rail trail between Wallan and Heathcote to act as an economic stimulus for Mitchell Shire.
According to the group, the combination of upcoming council elections and the availability of government stimulus funding due to the COVID-19 pandemic creates an ideal opportunity to build the trail for the benefit of residents and businesses.
The group said a rail trail would create a ‘critical spine’ supporting an economic boost for the Mitchell Shire and enable a continuous connection through all three Mitchell Shire wards and between Melbourne’s urban trail network, the O’Keefe Rail Trail in Heathcote and the Great Victorian Rail Trail.
Friends of the Bendigo Kilmore Rail Trail member Lindsay Clay said a rail trail would present physical and economic benefits to Mitchell Shire residents, communities and businesses.
“Eventually what we’re dreaming of is people from overseas will fly into Tullamarine, hire a bike and ride the Merri Creek Trail to Wallan and up this trail to Bendigo, stopping off along the way,” he said.
“The benefit for towns like Wandong and Tooborac and Pyalong mean their shops and pubs will stay open and that benefits the locals because the little town continues to operate.”
A feasibility study in 2017 concluded a Wallan to Heathcote trail is feasible, with the report’s findings endorsed by Mitchell Shire Council in 2018 identifying a staged development.
The group was formed in 2009 and was successful in lobbying for an extension of the O’Keefe Rail Trail from Axedale to Heathcote in 2016 and has since focused on the development of a rail trail in Mitchell Shire.
Mr Clay said the trail would open up a developing linked trail network in regional Victoria, which would become a recreational and tourism asset of state significance.
“Not only will state and/or federal government funding provide a much-needed off-road local asset to assist the wellbeing of connected communities, it will also support current and new business opportunities,” he said.
“With the surge in individual recreation and exercise pursuits under the current pandemic, such as walking and cycling, the use of formal trails in Australia has dramatically increased.
“Unfortunately, the Mitchell Shire currently lacks a comprehensive network of such pathways and formal trails to benefit its residents and businesses.”