Long-term closure of Spring Creek Canyon (Bungonia)

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T2
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Long-term closure of Spring Creek Canyon (Bungonia)

Post by T2 » 15 May 2018, 12:05

As most canyoners would know, Spring Creek Canyon has been indefinitely closed for about two decades. The official reason is concerns over loose rock above one of the abseils (although if every canyon with loose rock was closed, there wouldn't be much open in places like Kanangra and Bungonia). This is unfortunate given it's easily the most spectacular of the Bungonia canyons.

The canyon was closed in about 1998 after a small landslip / rock fall occurred above one of the abseils while a group from NSW Police were in the canyon. (You can see some discussion about this on the old OzCanyons yahoo group).

Unfortunately, in a risk-averse age it'd take balls for National Parks to reopen the canyon as there's no way to remove all rock fall risk. It would be great if there was a united effort in the canyoning community to have this spectacular slot returned to public access. Also a good reminder that once access is lost, it can be almost impossible to have it restored!



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Re: Long-term closure of Spring Creek Canyon (Bungonia)

Post by PhilC » 22 May 2018, 21:57

I heard Spring Creek was closed but could find nothing official about this on NPWS website. So we went anyway and did not see any signs on the fire trail approach advising it was closed. A great canyon and disappointing that it's supposedly off-limits.

Yes, there was a land slip 20 years ago but the loose rock risk seems to be much the same across all the Bungonia Canyons. It's a pity the nanny state considers Spring Creek too dangerous for her children.

I was raised in UK, where 10 to 15 people die every year in the Lake District out walking the fells. One spot in particular sees deaths almost every year. It's sad but we seem to stoically accept this as casualties in the pursuit of passion. The dangers and risk mitigation are well publicised and sign posted but I'm not aware of the government banning us from these activities.

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Re: Long-term closure of Spring Creek Canyon (Bungonia)

Post by T2 » 23 May 2018, 11:27

Phil, I just had a look on the website and there's definitely nothing there. But from talking to someone at National Parks the permanent closure is still in place. Apparently that is unlikely to change because it would require the approval of the Office of Environment and Heritage.
Interesting about the lack of signage you encountered. I think there's an element of National Parks covering their own arse by having it officially closed, so they can blame anyone who gets injured, but beyond that they don't put many resources into enforcing it.
There are inherent risks involved with canyoning, particularly in areas with loose rocks, but I share your view that adequately experienced people should be able to accept that risk and deal with the consequences. It's also ironic that across the river is Fordham Canyon, which I recall being quite terrifying due to all the loose rock. But it remains open...

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Re: Long-term closure of Spring Creek Canyon (Bungonia)

Post by tom_brennan » 25 May 2018, 12:54

It is interesting that there are no notices on either the website, or in the Plan of Management, regarding the closure of Spring Creek.

However, they do state in the PoM that you need to register for Adventure Activities, and I'm pretty sure that the register at the Visitor Centre states that Spring Creek is closed. This may well be the only place!!

The website for Bungonia NP has nothing (that I can see) about registration. All I can see is:
Adventure sports like climbing, caving, canyoning and abseiling offer a thrilling opportunity to explore our unique environments. Before you head out, be aware of the risks and stay safe during adventure sports.

Many of Bungonia’s caves are steep and precipitous and they can only be explored by well-equipped and experienced cavers.
But in the downloadable brochure, it does state:
Remember to plan ahead, choose your walks and activities to match your fitness level. Tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Please note that anyone undertaking any of the adventure activities at Bungonia must complete the visitor intentions register at the park office prior to setting off.
Lastly, Bungonia NP got carved out of the former Bungonia SCA in 2010, and Spring Creek is still in the SCA, while Bungonia and Jerrara Creeks are part of the NP. There is basically no useful info on the SCA on the website, so it's not like the NPWS is doing a good job of advising of the closure!

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Re: Long-term closure of Spring Creek Canyon (Bungonia)

Post by AJAllchin » 27 May 2018, 21:08

Maybe the "Bungonia Recreation Activities Group" might be able to provide some information or lobby / find out what might be required for the canyon to be reopened if there is the interest?

I don't know anything about the group, but it is referenced in the POM and I have heard of it previously (someone saying they were a member of it) so I think there's a chance it does exist!

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Re: Long-term closure of Spring Creek Canyon (Bungonia)

Post by T2 » 27 May 2018, 21:34

Good suggestion Alex. I know Joe Sydney was a member of the "Bungonia Recreation Activities Group" (he was there in relation to caving) but I saw that he has signed up to this forum. Perhaps he has an update or suggestions.

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Re: Long-term closure of Spring Creek Canyon (Bungonia)

Post by Neo » 27 May 2018, 21:43

Sounds like a reaction at the time of the rock slide but it's still accessible/not closed? Shhh. Go safely where your skills and heart take you.

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Re: Long-term closure of Spring Creek Canyon (Bungonia)

Post by T2 » 28 May 2018, 11:37

Does anyone know a geotechnical engineer who is also a recreational canyoner / caver / climber / abseiler? If so, please PM me their details. I've had an interesting course of action suggested that could potentially facilitate the reopening of Spring Creek, but it will require some serious technical expertise.

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Re: Long-term closure of Spring Creek Canyon (Bungonia)

Post by T2 » 29 Jul 2020, 13:10

In exciting news, I've received confirmation from both the Environment Minister's office and NPWS management that the rockfall hazard responsible for closing Spring Creek is on a list to be formally assessed, with this expected to occur by the end of the year. This finally provides a pathway that could allow the canyon to reopen after 22 years!

The following are the key points from Environment Minister Matt Kean's office:
· In 2019, NPWS released the Landslides and Rockfalls Policy and Procedures to provide a consistent process for managing landslides and rockfalls in NSW parks.
· NPWS (Illawarra Highlands Area) has prepared a priority schedule of areas to be assessed and managed using the Policy.
· Assessment of high priorities have begun and include areas that have high visitation and/or visitor infrastructure, urban interface and areas affected by the recent fires.
· Spring Creek Canyon is listed for assessment which is anticipated to occur towards the end of 2020.
As far as I am aware, there has never been a formal assessment undertaken of the Spring Creek closure, so its inclusion on a priority list for assessment, and a clear timeframe for that occurring, are extremely significant.

The legal situation has changed radically since Spring Creek was shut in 1998. In particular, the public liability issues that were devastating adventure activities in NSW at the time have been resolved. More significantly, a nationally-consistent framework for assessing geotechnical risks (such as rockfall and landslide hazards) has been put in place.

A few years ago a leading geotechnical consultant who specialises in this space informed me that, if assessed under this current framework, it is very unlikely the canyon would have been shut. The fact that Spring Creek is reasonably remote and is only likely to have relatively small numbers of people passing through reduces the risk posed by rockfall, increasing the chance it can be opened. Two decades of weathering may have also stabilised the offending rockfall.

The fact that National Parks developed a formal policy document in this space, which not only aligns with the national framework but also outlines a transparent approach to examining hazards and the risks they pose to park users, was a vital step forward. As well as providing a pathway to have access to Spring Creek restored, it also means that if there are incidents in future those risks will be properly assessed, rather than having knee-jerk closures or bans imposed.

For those who are interested in the details, here's a link with more information about how the NPWS is now managing the risks posed by landslides and rockfalls. If you want to really dive into the issue, the full policy and procedure document is here: https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/-/me ... 190671.pdf.

Correspondence from the NPWS Manager for the Illawarra Highlands Area aligns with the Minister's office:
NPWS has prepared a priority schedule of areas to be assessed and managed using the policy. Assessment of high priorities have begun and include areas that have high visitation and/or visitor infrastructure, urban interface and areas affected by the recent fires. Spring Creek Canyon is listed on a secondary schedule with assessment likely to occur towards the end of 2020.
He also provided a bit more information about the closure, which I wasn't aware of. There were actually two separate incidents in 1998. The first, which he described as a "significant rockslide even" resulted in NPWS asking Police Rescue to inspect the area to assess the risk. During that assessment, a second rock fall occurred and Police Rescue members were lucky to be unharmed. NPWS was provided legal advice at the time that given two rockfall incidents had occurred in a short period of time, Spring Creek posed a known and unacceptable risk and therefore was closed for public safety. When the Civil Liability Act 2002 was introduced, legal advice to NPWS was that it did not allow them to divest liability by allowing people to access an area that had a known and unacceptable risk.

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