In a ground-breaking move a classic Blue Mountains bushwalk has been made one way due to its popularity and COVID-19. The Grand Canyon walk at Blackheath can now only be walked in a clockwise direction in a bid to control record crowds and parking issues.
As part of a trial the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service said the Grand Canyon would be made one way until January 30, due to record visitation and to help maintain social distancing. Visitors have been asked to enter at Evans Lookout and exit at Neates Glen and to adhere to all directional signage on the track. The trial started on December 18.
Most canyoners believe the walk is preferred from the other direction, so people finish with the spectacular view from Evans Lookout instead of a carpark. On the canyoning Facebook page, OzCanyons, one canyoner labelled it "COVID knee jerkery" and another, Sandy Sirol, questioned whether people could be compelled to complete it in the direction NPWS has said.
"Surely it could only ever be a recommendation, they can't really force people," Sandy Sirol posted.
According to a NPWS spokesperson, all commercial tour operators licensed by NPWS were notified on December 16 about the move and it resulted from crowding during the September school holidays.
"During the school holidays in September 2020, the iconic Grand Canyon Track experienced record numbers of visitors, leading to crowding and delays at key pinch points along the trail. Under the NPWS COVID-safe plan for summer, we are currently trialing the Grand Canyon track as a one-way loop trail.
"The trial includes provisions for commercial canyoning operators to deviate from the stated one-way direction to improve their trips. The trial is helping us to understand whether a one-way design will help with visitor flow and reduce crowding during busy periods."
It's estimated 200,000 people walk the track annually.
The Parks spokesperson said "commercial operators will be invited to provide feedback at the conclusion of the trial, which will inform NPWS's evaluation and decision-making".
Some canyoners, including Mic Rofe, called it "sensible" adding "it was pretty unpleasant a few weeks ago getting past oncoming traffic, though ending at Evans makes more sense to me, and possibly just making it one way on weekends and school holidays".
And another user, Richard Delaney, said while canyoners were disadvantaged, he believed they only made up about five per cent of the traffic with walkers making up the rest, "and most will probably park where they start ... and Evans Lookout caters much better for parking. As for the need I understand there were 180 cars parked at Neates Glen on a weekends not so long ago".
The route will return to two ways at the end of the month and Parks says there are no plans to bring in other one way canyon routes in the Blue Mountains.