The fate of one of northern New South Wales’s most popular walking tracks remains uncertain after authorities chose to delay a controversial decision regarding its future for the fourth time.
Situated near the flood-hit town of Murwillumbah, Wollumbin national park previously attracted more than 100,000 visitors a year, and its summit is renowned as the first place in Australia to catch the sunrise.
Formerly known as Mount Warning national park, it was initially closed in March 2020 due to Covid-19 restrictions, but has never reopened as the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service undertakes an assessment on safety and cultural grounds.
The hiking trail was to remain closed until May 2021 after public safety risks were flagged with infrastructure that helps climbers reach the summit. However, that deadline was extended to July and then November, before last year being pushed back to 31 March 2022.
On Friday, the national park’s website was again updated to indicate the closure would stretch into a third year.
“[The national park] remains closed until the end of June 2022 due to the impacts of widespread flooding in the region and to allow further consultation with the Aboriginal community and other key stakeholders about the future management of the site,” the website reads.
Guardian Australia has requested comment from NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
The upper reach of Wollumbin was declared an Aboriginal place in 2014, with a sign at the start of the trail asking visitors to reconsider their climb out of respect for its spiritual significance to the local Bundjalung people.
A Wollumbin Consultative Group spokesperson told the ABC in 2019 the mountain was considered a sacred place.
“Only selected men could go on to the mountain for higher level initiation,” they said. “It is a dangerous spiritual place for women.”
In the wake of the 2019 ban on people scaling Uluru in the Northern Territory, advocates for being allowed to climb Wollumbin fear a similar fate awaits.
Right To Climb spokesperson Marc Hendrickx said the latest delay to a decision about the trail’s reopening highlighted the incompetence of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
“They have clearly not done the work they promised to do,” he said.
“For me, Mount Warning is a national treasure, and the treatment of it by the people who are supposed to be looking after it is reprehensible.
“I believe they see it as a high-maintenance, high-cost area … and they are using the Aboriginal people as an excuse to close the climb, along with fabricated safety issues. It’s quite sad.”