Get On Board, Weekend Star. Letter by Will Jeffery





Weekend Star, Saturday 6 September 2014

Get On Board (Rail trail means business opportunities and jobs).

Youth unemployment in the Northern Rivers currently runs at around 20%. That gives our region the shameful ranking of 53rd of the 55 regions in Australia surveyed. The good news is that we are among the leading regions for entrepreneurial skills. With this in mind, the Northern Rivers Rail Trail would seem an ideal fit. It would be the right type of public infrastructure for addressing our weaknesses and supporting our strengths.

The Northern Rivers Rail Trail (NRRT) will be a lot more than just a bike track.  It will be jam packed with attractions that could include a beautiful make-over of Union Street South Lismore into a café, parks and retail precinct, a permanent CSG protest museum and anti-violent protest academy at Bentley, a lucrative fine food and harvest trail industry for Eltham, additional space to really put Bangalow markets on the map as the premier local market, a facility to exploit the magic of the views from St Helena, an expansive urban and rural network of cycling and walking trails in and around Byron Bay that adds to its destination appeal, an ‘ancient planet’ attraction near Burringbar to captivate visitors with the bio-diversity and awe-inspiring geological age of our region, a permaculture open-farm and study centre where you can take a detour through to see what its all about; the range of possibilities will be limited only by the imagination of our entrepreneurs.

Beyond employment opportunities at attractions, jobs will also be generated by the sale of tourism products and services into the International and Domestic tourism market. The entire marketing machine to launch these new products and services is ready and waiting in the form of Destination NSW, Tourism Australia and all of the local Visitor Information Centres. Products might be based on all or any part of the 132 kilometres of the NRRT; The Historic Villages Trek (Eltham, Booyong, Nashua), the downhill fun-ride from St Helena to the Bay (a must-do activity for many visitors and locals), a diverse range of half and full day tours from Byron Bay featuring NRRT content, Bundjalung tourism, health and well-being retreats, Australian wildlife tours featuring koalas, wallabies, birds, fireflies and glow worms (all in their natural habitat, not a zoo), mobility scooter and golf buggy tours for the less physically abled, volunteer tourism (a new trend in global tourism), conservation cadetships and educational tourism (usually purchased in Japan, Korea and China by parents wanting an English speaking summer holiday experience for their late- teen children) not to mention products aimed squarely at cyclists, a proven high-value tourism segment.

With all of this, and still not yet exploring its hospitality, retail, publishing and educational potential, nor the wide range of positive social and cultural impacts, the NRRT will be THE ‘jewel in the crown’ of the beautiful Northern Rivers lifestyle. It will immeasurably enhance local community life and sustainably generate jobs and prosperity for the future. It will create an environment that is no longer at odds with our kids’ aspirations for a worthwhile career at home.

Will Jeffery