Minyon Falls master plan

This master plan will guide the upgrade of visitor infrastructure at Minyon Falls and Minyon Grass picnic area in Nightcap National Park as part of the Tweed Byron Hinterland Trails project.

Public exhibition of this master plan provided an opportunity for members of the community to have a say in relation to this activity proposed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). The master plan was available for comment from 25 October to 25 November 2019.

The Minyon Falls precinct is a popular visitor destination in Nightcap National Park north of Lismore on the New South Wales north coast. Here you can see Minyon Falls plunging 130 metres into a deep pool amid tall forests and spectacular scenery. Minyon Grass picnic area is located to the south of Minyon Falls and offers picnic facilities, views to the falls and a trackhead for the walking track to the base of Minyon Falls.

The planned visitor infrastructure improvements will increase capacity and enhance visitor access and safety at Minyon Falls lookout and nearby day use area. The works aim to complement the site's natural and cultural values and provide opportunities for a more diverse range of visitors to enjoy our spectacular national parks.

The upgrade will increase parking capacity and improve the sense of arrival, access pathways and family gathering spaces at Minyon Falls, including a new viewing platform, picnic shelters and tables.

Minyon Falls currently attracts over 250,000 visitors per year and will become one of the access hubs for the multi-day walk proposed as part of the Tweed Byron Hinterland Trails project. While the Minyon Falls lookout platform and walk to the base of the falls are both impressive, existing visitor infrastructure at the day use area does not meet the outstanding appeal of the site. There is a poor sense of arrival in the existing picnic area, timeworn picnic shelters, pathways and outdated signage, and lack of elements to draw visitors to natural features and beyond. There is also a lack of clear flow and direction to the walking tracks, and a need to update site interpretation in consultation with the Widjabul Wia-bul people, the Native Title Claimants for the area. Overall, there is a need for an extensive upgrade to improve the presentation of the Minyon Falls Precinct.

The proposed concept intends to deliver an exceptional visitor destination while minimising impact on the natural setting. The main entry picnic area is to be greatly improved, with curved grassed terraces beside a winding access pathway, improving the sense of arrival. A storytelling theme is proposed along this pathway to engage the visitor and draw them towards the Minyon Falls lookout. An architecturally designed shelter also offers a flexible gathering space to activate the area close to the lookout, and the viewing platform itself will be upgraded with a new curved structure.

Minyon Grass picnic area will receive a minor upgrade with refreshed picnic facilities, toilets and carpark.

A draft master plan illustrates the design concepts developed for the precinct. It includes site plans, diagrams of proposed infrastructure and visual representations of completed designs. It presents a picture of planned visitor infrastructure improvements at the site.

The Minyon Falls master plan is the first of 4 separate master plans for different precincts within the Tweed Byron Hinterland Trails project. Additional master plans will be developed over the next 2 years to provide detailed information on the Unicorn Falls day use area, multi-day walking track route and visitor facilities in Wollumbin National Park.

Two written submissions, both opposing the implementation of the master plan, were received during the exhibition period.

The key issues raised in the submissions were:

  • The scale of the proposed development (including car parking and viewing platform) is inappropriate for the site ('overpowering"') and will degrade the natural amenity of the location.
  • A large number of trees will need to be removed resulting in a loss of character and habitat values, which is unjustified.
  • The planned grass surfaces and shelters are out of context with the natural environment and impose an 'urban' feel to the design, not in keeping with the forest setting.
  • The original visitor facilities were planned in the 1970-80s to avoid tree removal and impacts on wildlife habitat, visual amenity and history. The footprint of the new master plan should be further constrained to protect the site.

Full submissions (where not requested to be confidential) are available for viewing by contacting the Project Officer.

Issue: scale of the proposed development

Response:

  • The proposal to provide additional car parking facilities at Minyon Falls day use area (an increase from 42 to 96 car spaces) was outlined in the proposed amendments to the plan of management (Tweed Byron Hinterland Trails project).
  • The carpark currently receives on average 200 cars per day, with over 400 per day during holiday periods.
  • The limited capacity of the existing carpark creates safety and environmental issues as visitors park along road verges damaging vegetation and hindering visibility.
  • The carpark upgrade will increase capacity and the collector paths will enhance visitor access and improve pedestrian safety.
  • The design layout separates short-term visitor locations from the stay and dwell visitors which will make more effective use of the site.
  • The upgrade will also improve the grade of access pathways to allow people with limited mobility to visit independently for the first time. Better grades and more useable space will provide opportunities for a more diverse range of visitors to enjoy this spectacular location.
  • In order to protect and enhance the site's scenic values:
    • other than the lookout, all new facilities are from the Park Facilities Manual and similar to those used throughout the State
    • disturbed areas will be rehabilitated with local species to reduce visual impacts and help blend the design into the natural environment
    • existing vegetation has been retained within the lookout structure to help reduce visual impacts, especially when viewed from a distance (e.g. Minyon Grass).

Issue: Removal of existing trees and urban feel to design

Response:

  • Because of the high volume of foot traffic and slope of the site, ground cover has been denuded over large areas causing a gradual loss of soil.
  • The new design decreases the slope by benching the area, and provides a hard-wearing grass cover to prevent run-off and to cater for the increased number of visitors.
  • It is designed to supply opportunities for visitors to understand, enjoy and appreciate parks, and take maximum advantage of interpretive opportunities and scenic values.
  • Layout design aims to minimise impacts to habitat at and surrounding the site.
  • Trees that are required to be removed will be re-used by NPWS for future park operations and compensatory tree hollows will be installed in adjoining forested areas.

Issue: Site planning and visitor footprint

Response:

  • The NPWS proposal is in response to the high levels of visitation already attracted to the site and as an alternative experience to the unsustainable visitation levels impacting on the Wollumbin summit.
  • The site has a long history of visitation and NPWS constructed the existing platform, facilities and layout in 2000. The design elements at the time focused on providing a safe view of the falls and basin below and moving people away from the edge of the cliff face to the facilities further upstream.
  • The increased visitation levels are much higher now than in previous decades. Visitor numbers are having an impact on the environmental quality of the area and elements of the infrastructure are at the end of their life cycle.
  • Doing nothing would result in further deterioration of the site, continuation and increase of environmental impacts and potential risks as visitor numbers continue to increase.
  • The planned facilities aim to address predicted demand, based on current trends, while limiting the visitor footprint and minimising impacts.
  • The master plan is consistent with NPWS policies as appropriate and necessary to meet park management needs.
  • The Minyon Falls precinct is 2 hectares and is the most intensely visited section of Nightcap National Park. This represents just 0.025% of Nightcap National Park.
  • NPWS are consulting with the Widjabul Wia-bul Native Title Claimants and have received a letter of support for the project.
  • An Aboriginal Cultural Heritage assessment has been undertaken and management recommendations provided.
  • The proposed works are subject to a detailed Review of Environmental Factors (REF) in accordance with the requirements of the NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act) to ensure protective measures are implemented to mitigate the likely impacts of the works on the environment.

Following public exhibition, the master plan may be adjusted to meet environmental and cultural heritage assessment outcomes, further consultation and local design issues but must still meet the requirements of the plan of management (and any approved amendments).

Work is expected to commence on the site in the second half of 2020.

Minyon Falls, Nightcap National Park