Hundreds of people have gathered at Crescent Head on Sunday, January 29, to protest against National Parks and Wildlife Service's (NPWS) proposed plans that could see dogs and horses banned from the local beaches.
The Goolawah National Park, Goolawah Regional Park and Limeburners Creek National Park plan of management has been a point of contention for some time, with many residents voicing their frustrations over the proposed changes.
The plan would see dogs and horses prohibited from certain beach access routes and dogs banned from previously off-leash dog walking areas.
Crescent Head Dog and Walkers Group (CHDaWG) president Jann Eason said the community is "incensed" about the draft plan of management.
Ms Eason has lodged multiple formal complaints to government officials and written to NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet about the issue.
Ms Eason said the topic will be on the minds of the Macleay Valley community heading into the NSW state election in March.
"If we want our parliamentary representatives to represent us, then we must send a clear message that this is not acceptable," she said.
The newly formed Macleay Recreational Horse Riders Alliance group led the protest with CHDaWG today.
Fifth generation horse rider and trainer Brad Scott started the group with fellow local Karen Donaldson when they heard about the plan of management late last year.
"We started this group because we knew nothing about what was happening with the plan," Mr Scott said.
"When it was brought to our attention, we pulled all of the horse riding community together to form the group as a way of getting our voices heard."
Ms Donaldson said NPWS' plan of management fails to recognise the long history of horse riding in the area.
Her comments relate to section 3.6 on page 44 of the plan of management, which states: "None of the parks covered by this plan have a significant history of recreational horse riding, although several park neighbours own horses, and some pony clubs operate in the wider region".
Ms Donaldson said it is important NPWS engages in further discussions with the community and "comes up with a plan that is beneficial for everyone involved".
"Our aim is to bring our long history of local horse riding to their attention so that they can understand how important it is for us to continue," she said.
"We want the opportunity to develop a good working relationship with them to support a common goal, which is to conserve everything but still have the parks be available for use.
"We don't do any damage to the beaches, we don't leave a trace and we are mindful of the conservation value because we love the parks and beaches as well."
Mr Scott said it's important that future generations are able to continue riding horses in the local area.
"My family's history of horse riding spans across five generations and it's really important for my kids to be able to have the same opportunities that I did," he said.
"It's not only important for our mental and physical health, it's also important for our horses to be able to be ridden in such a beautiful environment, the stress that this change could bring to them could have serious consequences."
Member for Oxley, Melinda Pavey, also spoke at the rally to offer her full support to the crowd along with Kempsey Shire mayor Leo Hauville and councillor Arthur Bain, speaking as an individual, not representative of Kempsey Shire Council.
"This is what happens when big government agencies don't listen to the community," Mrs Pavey said. "We just want some common sense to prevail and for them to let the access routes, as it's been for generations, continue.
"Then you have a better chance of ensuring the community supports National Parks locally."
A spokesperson for NPWS said the draft plan of management was "subject to an extensive consultation process during its preparation, and followed by three months of public exhibition, which received 149 submissions".
"The plan of management has not yet been finalised," the spokesperson said.
"Submissions received on the draft plan, and advice received from the North Coast Regional Advisory Committee and the National Parks and Wildlife Advisory Council will be carefully considered alongside information about the natural and cultural values of these areas, before a final plan for the parks is adopted.
"The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service is continuing to work with Kempsey Shire Council to investigate the feasibility of alternative access arrangements to the existing dog-walking area at the northern end of Goolawah Beach."
Ms Eason said the community consultation sessions, which are now closed, have failed to address the community's concerns and has called it "unacceptable".
Ms Eason said she is also concerned that the restricted access to Goolawah Park could set a precedent for other local areas, citing the Arakoon National Park and Hat Head National Park plan of management as an example.
"Today is our last chance," she said. "We really don't have anywhere else to go after this.
"What we're concerned about is that... it doesn't matter how much evidence we give, [NPWS] will not listen.
"They are not community consultations, they are information sessions where [NPWS] tells us what they are going to do to us.
"When the Hat Head National Park [plan of management] comes up for review, we are going to face this problem all over again and it will be met with an even stronger resistance."
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