THE much anticipated 21-kilometre extension of the Great Southern Rail Trail between Welshpool and Alberton is now open.

The trail welcomes walkers, runners, cyclists, horse riders and people of all abilities to explore the beautiful South Gippsland region, with a focus on the southern part of The Middle of Everywhere.

The extension increases the total length of the trail to an impressive 129km.

Wellington Shire Mayor, Cr Ian Bye and South Gippsland Shire Mayor, Cr Clare Williams took to the trail to ride the extension recently, crossing the border between Welshpool and Alberton.

The pair commended both councils for their collaborative efforts to achieve the much-anticipated project.

The milestone not only marks the completion of the Great Southern Rail Trail from Yarram to Nyora, but also completes an 18-month journey, providing locals and tourists access to the eastern end that reaches the historically rich coastal area, known fondly by locals and visitors to Wellington Shire as ‘The Middle of Everywhere’.

The extension was made possible through a $6 million Regional Infrastructure Grant funding from the state government, via the Department of Jobs, Skills, Industry, and Regions. The funding supported 18 months of construction work across both shires. While the trail is now open, final interpretive and wayfinding signage is still to come, with installation and completion expected by the end of 2024.

Locals, visitors, and partners can expect an invite to an official opening ahead of the September school holidays, when the trail will be celebrated in all its glory. In late 2024, a new Great Southern Rail Trail website will be launched which will provide comprehensive information allowing users to plan ahead of their visit.

Out of the 21km extension, Wellington Shire Council covers 14km, with South Gippsland Shire Council managing the remaining 7km. Over the past 18 months, the project has reconstructed nine small bridges and five large bridges, including an impressive 80-metre bridge over Albert River. The works involved constructing gravel paths and extensive vegetation management between the towns of Alberton and Welshpool, including Hedley and Gelliondale.

Despite weather setbacks in late December 2023 and January 2024 causing extensive damage and delays, the trail is now ready for public use.

Cr Bye expressed excitement over the project’s completion, saying that everyone at council is thrilled to see the community and visitors alike enjoying this beautiful addition to the region.

“The trail is a testament to council’s commitment to providing recreational opportunities while boosting the local economy through tourism,” he said.

“Visitors can enjoy diverse landscapes, including farmland, forests, wetlands, and historic towns like Yarram, Alberton and Port Albert. The trail also offers opportunities to spot local wildlife such as kangaroos, birds, and other native animals as well as infrastructure remnants, adding a cultural and historical element to the journey, ensuring there is something for everyone to enjoy.”

“It is exciting to see this extension complete and our shared vision of a recreation asset connecting our two regions fulfilled,” Cr Williams added.

“Rail trails are popular with local residents and are a drawcard for visitors. I know that many people have been asking about this section of trail and are keen to get out there and explore. This extension means that the Great Southern Rail Trail now extends 129km through a variety of beautiful Gippsland landscapes. I can’t wait for visitors to discover what we are fortunate to have in our very own backyards.”

At the time of grant application funding, a joint cost-benefit analysis between both councils showed that the benefits of the extension would outweigh the construction costs in every way. The bulk of benefits were estimated to be linked with the attraction of tourist spending into the region (defined as South Gippsland and Wellington Shires). Other benefits included improved health and enhanced recreational opportunities for the local population.

For more information, visit: themiddleofeverywhere.com.au or visitsouthgippsland.com.au