When the Gospers Mountain bushfire threatened the Lithgow community in New South Wales in late October 2019, no one could have predicted the heartache that was still to come.
The mega fire, which is said to have started from a single ignition point, ended up decimating an area seven times the size of Singapore. It was the biggest forest fire from a single ignition point that Australia has ever experienced.
For Kristie Kearney, founder and owner of award-winning and Advanced Ecotourism certified local tourism business, Wolgan Valley Eco Tours, the fire’s impact was as direct as it was devastating.
“Our business was impacted massively by the Gospers Mountain Fire here in the Lithgow region,” she told us. “Our place of operation is in Wollemi and [the] Gardens of Stone National Park – both decimated by the fires.”
“To say we are heartbroken for a World Heritage area that has given us so much is an understatement,” said the business’ Facebook page in December.
Kristie said whilst thankfully her home and office survived, the severity of the fires and the resulting closure of the national parks have meant that Wolgan Valley Eco Tours has had to cease operations until these areas reopen, hopefully in June.
“[The park closures are necessary] to allow for essential recovery of the fragile environment and to allow for repairs to trails and visitor facilities,” she explained.
Having gone through such an ideal with no immediate improvement in sight, one would think it would be tempting to wallow in despair. But Kristie’s courage – like that of many other tourism businesses impacted by bushfires and other emergencies all over Australia – shines through.
“[Going through these types of experiences] brings communities together through shared experiences. I’m incredibly proud of where I live and the community members that I call my neighbours and friends,” she noted.
“We just remind ourselves how incredibly lucky we are to have our family, our home and our community and that other areas and people have had to endure far worse than us. We can only begin to imagine their pain.”
Thankfully, recent rains are beginning to bring life back to the region.
“We are starting to see the bushland respond with epicormic growth on tree trunks, fern fronds re-sprouting and the valley’s iconic wildlife slowly recovering after such a traumatic ordeal,” Kristie said.
Kristie is also making the most of the down time to stop and reflect, looking at ways in which she can improve the business and coming up with new products and packages she can offer to visitors in the future.
“[We’re thinking of] expanding to other areas of the Lithgow region,” she noted, and said the business might start offering products and packages that focus on iconic historical figures and key environmental events such as the naturalist Charles Darwin’s visit to the Lithgow region and National Bird Week activities in the Capertee Valley, which is an internationally recognised Important Bird Area (IBA).
Kristie also encouraged visitors to keep coming to the region even as it recovers:
“There are plenty of attractions and places to eat and stay that have not been impacted by the fires and are open for business. However, we do ask that visitors respect national park and state forest closures and allow our fragile World Heritage area time to recover.”
For someone who has experienced the devastation of Australia’s latest bushfire season firsthand and who is now unable to operate her own business, Kristie’s focus on lifting up her neighbours and putting the recovery of nature first are admirable.
Keep up the great work, Wolgan Valley Eco Tours, and thanks for showing true leadership in adversity.