By Casey Neill
A $3 million Federal Government boost is bringing the Warburton Mountain Bike Destination project a step closer.
Casey MP Tony Smith announced the Building Better Regions Fund cash on Monday 16 July.
The project will develop more than 100 kilometres of mountain bike trails in the hills surrounding Warburton, and is expected to inject $20.4 million annually into the local economy.
Mr Smith said it would boost visitation to the Upper Yarra Valley and create critically-needed jobs.
“It will be a magnet for tourists from all over Australia, who will stay and shop in our wonderful community and return again and again,” he said.
Upper Yarra Community Enterprise, the Warburton and Yarra Junction Community Bank branches, committed $300,000 to the project.
Yarra Ranges Council will add $2.7 million to match the federal injection.
“Small towns like Warburton have to be bold,” Warburton Valley Community Economic Development Association (CEDA) president Peta Godenzi said.
“This is an opportunity for the town to set themselves up to take advantage of the economic investment.
“For some it could be the difference between businesses just getting by and actually thriving.
“We are sure to see tourism accommodation projects which are underway move forward to completion and this will encourage more people to spend money in Warburton.
“There will be opportunities for people who are unemployed to find work and we may see part-time roles become full-time.”
Ms Godenzi, who has lived in Warburton for 42 years, said she was excited to see change ahead for the town.
“Mountain bikers will spend money and we know that towns like Derby in Tasmania with world-famous trails have benefited enormously and have transformed as a result of the visitors,” she said.
O’Shannassy Ward Councillor Jim Child said the destination would attract 165,000 visitors per year and create 122 new jobs in the Yarra Valley.
He said this was much-needed following the downturn Warburton experienced in the mid-90s when the Sanitarium factory closed, followed by the closure of the hospital and withdrawal of the major banks from the township.
BT Dubs Cafe owner Simone Senton-Jonker said the town needed new infrastructure.
“If it takes the trails being built to make that happen then that’s great,” she said.
She’s also positive about the prospect of a jobs boost.
“A lot of young people leave Warby to live in the city or Lilydale to find decent work opportunities,” she said.
The Old Warburton Residents Association (OWRA) formed following the release of detailed maps of the proposed trails.
Members fear the project will have a detrimental impact on local residents.
Their concerns relate to amenity loss, lack of infrastructure, and parking and traffic issues.
The group recently called on the State Government to halt the project until a broader impact study could be completed, and the findings presented to residents.
The Warburton Mountain Bike Destination project includes three zones: Mt Donna Buang on the north side with the Drop-a-K signature trail; Mt Little Joe on the south side with trails for all, including beginners and families; and Mt Tugwell on the south side with more intermediate and advanced riding, with challenging cross country and all mountain trails.
The trails will include educational signage to help visitors connect with the environment.
The council is working with a number of partners to deliver the project including Parks Victoria, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and Melbourne Water.