Plans are afoot which could one day see a path for cyclists and bushwalkers connect Bendigo to Melbourne and create a network of trails across Victoria.
The first stage of that plan is ambitious enough – a 70-kilometre extension of the existing Bendigo to Heathcote rail trail to connect with the town of Wallan.
But Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail president Garry Long said their plans don’t end there.
“There’s plenty of rail trails in Victoria but they are all isolated trails – our end goal is to connect Melbourne and with trails all through central Victoria.
“When you look at the big picture, cyclists could come from Melbourne up through the O’Keefe trail to Bendigo, then they’ve the opportunity to get on the Goldfields Track and go down through Daylesford to Ballarat.
“So when you start to talk about connecting that large sweep across central Victoria – that’s got potential to attract international cycling tourism in a significant way."
Mr Long told the Bendigo Advertiser that country towns would be the big winners of the project when, and if, it went ahead.
“It would be a huge economic boost for those smaller towns... the Axedales, the Heathcotes , the Tooboracs, the Pyalongs – they’d be the big winners of a trail like this,” he said.
A feasibility study into the Wallan to Heathcote Rail Trail – which will also explore building another 30 kilometres of trail to connect to the Melbourne metropolitan bicycle network at Craigieburn – formally began on February 22.
The track would also connect with the Great Victorian Rail Trail at Tallarook and the Murchison to Rushworth Rail Trail at Heathcote.
“That’s the exciting part – the whole of the metropolitan Melbourne would have access to the Goldfields and central Victoria,” Mr Long said.
“They can come up from Melbourne and make the decison: ‘do I want to go to the high country on the Great Victorian Trail up to Mansfield or do I want to go to Bendigo?’
“Those are the choices that will be there for the individual and the tourist operators that will be bringing international and interstate tourists to this area.”
Mr Long said the 120 kilometres from Bendigo to Wallan trail could be ridden in a day for those who wanted to go “flat out”.
“Most people would ride the 120km from Bendigo to Wallan in two or three days, stopping along the way at small towns – but those who like a challenge would probably be able to ride it in eight to ten hours,” he said.
“That’s the beauty of the trail though, there’s a good distance of towns along that 120km which allows people to break their journey into stages and enjoy those places along the way, wines at Heathcote, the Tooborac Brewery…
Steering committee member Lindsay Clay said the study would be complete later this year – within six to nine months.
That will determine how long the project would take to build, after which it would come down to securing financial backing and getting local landholders and communities on board.
“At the moment, the project is a bit woolly,” Mr Clay said.
“But once the feasibility study is done, we’ll have a concrete proposal, a that document we will be able to put before government – and if you’ve got a good document, the money will come.”
Mr Long said the construction of the trail would likely be undertaken in stages.
“We thought our first extension from Axedale to Heathcote [completed last year] might take ten years and we were successful in getting funding in 18 months,” he said.
“So it’s pretty hard to put a time frame on it, but I’d say the addition 70km to Wallan would require a fair bit more money.
“If the feasibility study is going to be in the positive to construct – as we hope – then it would most likely be constructed in stages, probably three or four stages with some logical ones being Heathcote to Tooborac or Wallan to Kilmore.”
The feasibility study came on the back of a $150,000 grant from the state government as well as contributions from the City of Greater Bendigo and the Mitchell Shire Council.