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Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester is urging all levels of government and the community to support a $6.5 million plan to redevelop the East Gippsland Rail Trail and provide a link to Lakes Entrance.

Mr Chester has been working closely with the volunteer rail trail committee and has prepared a bid for $6.5 million in bushfire funding for local economic recovery projects.

“At almost 100 kilometres, the East Gippsland Rail Trail is the longest of the 11 trails in Gippsland and links Bairnsdale to Orbost with a safe, off-road exercise option for cyclists, runners and hiking,” Mr Chester said.

“The trail is managed and maintained by volunteers with limited resources and we need an investment of this level to improve the experience of trail users and boost the visitor economy.

“One of the reasons the summer bushfires had such a devastating impact on local businesses is our tourism industry is too dependent on just a few weeks of the year to earn income.

“If we can expand our tourism product to encourage visitors throughout the year, we will have a more resilient regional economy.

“We need to capitalise on the growth in cycling tourism and, as always, improve the infrastructure on public land to make the most of our existing assets.”

Mr Chester has drawn together previous plans and the latest information from the rail trail committee to submit a bid to the federal and state government for $6.5 million from the $450 million Local Economic Recovery

Projects fund. The plan has also been sent to East Gippsland Shire Council and community recovery committees along the route for input.

“Importantly, the trail traverses communities such as Orbost, Wairewa, Nowa Nowa, Bruthen, Wiseleigh, Nicholson and Bairnsdale which suffered significant social, environmental and economic losses in the 2020 bushfires,” Mr Chester said.

“It is the only bushfire recovery project proposed by the community which covers such a broad area and will deliver significant benefits along the route.

“A key strategy of sealing sections close to all towns along the route is expected to increase casual usage, while improving the gravel surface and providing a link to Lakes Entrance will encourage multi-day travellers.

“The project would be complemented by efforts to restore historic trestle bridges along the route which have been damaged by bushfires or neglected since the closure of the rail service.”

Separate funding proposals are being finalised for those projects.

“The trestle bridges along the route are just one of the unique features of our rail trail and I’m confident a significant investment of government funding would deliver long term benefits to our region,” Mr Chester said.

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