Gloucester, Bicentennial tree climb closures hit Pemberton region hard as tourists go elsewhere

There are fears visitors are changing their itineraries to bypass Pemberton, resulting in the loss of millions of tourism dollars, after the closure of Western Australia’s iconic Gloucester Tree.

For decades, travellers to Pemberton in the South West region have climbed almost 60 metres to the top of the Gloucester and Dave Evans Bicentennial trees without a harness or supervision.

However, both trees have been closed for months as structural engineers work out how to make the trees and infrastructure safe.

It’s still unclear when the trees will re-open.

Graeme Dearle, who runs a tourism business, said the closure was a “real concern”.

“To have our main attractions closed, it’s a serious blow to our tourism industry,” Mr Dearle said.

“Our international visitors and interstate visitors are keen to check these trees out. You can’t do this anywhere else in the world.

“We are hearing from operators adjacent to Pemberton that they are looking at changing their itinerary and staying in other towns longer.”

Graeme Dearle says visitors are going elsewhere because they can’t climb the tree.(ABC South West: Jacqueline Lynch)

Mr Dearle said the town would continue to feel the economic impact of the closure.

“It’ll be into the hundreds of thousands [a year], if not millions [of dollars],” he said.

“We’re afraid that the trees might never open again.”

‘Copped a few hits’

The WA government recently banned native logging, prompting some nearby timber businesses to shut.

Some people fear the trees will never re-open.(ABC South West: Jacqueline Lynch)

Shire of Manjimup President Donelle Buegge said the closure of the trees to climbers was a further “blow” to the region.

“We’ve copped a few hits of late with the deregulation of dairy, deregulation of potatoes, closing of the native forestry so we really have been thrown into tourism quite heavily,” she said.

“In the short term, I would like to see [the trees] opened somewhat, so that people can still climb that little way up, take their Instagram photo, and they’re happy with that.

“In the long term, I’d like to have it revisited … to be able to get to the top.”

Donelle Buegge says the region went heavily into tourism after changes in other local industries.(ABC South West: Jacqueline Lynch)

New experience backs competition

A new high ropes course has opened next to the Gloucester Tree, using a $100,000 state grant aimed at transitioning the region away from native logging.

Owner Cecile Leclere has backed calls to re-open the Gloucester Tree.

“I really, really want it to re-open,” Ms Leclere said.

“It’s too unique to close down in my opinion … and it’s not a competitor, it’s really a complementary activity near us.”

Cecile Leclere owns a new tourism experience next to the Gloucester Tree.(ABC South West: Jacqueline Lynch)

‘Still book the trip’

The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions hasn’t ruled out closing the trees for good but acting regional manager Tim Foley said it was not something he was keen to see happen.

“If anything our commitment is the opposite of that, to really keep the climbing trees experience,” Mr Foley said.

“I think there are options to look at, you know, [like the] replacement of a lookout platform at the top of the trees versus a partial climbing option.”

Tim Foley says he’s hopeful climbers will return to the trees.(ABC South West: Jacqueline Lynch)

Mr Foley urged people not to bypass the region on their travels.

“There’s so much to see in the Pemberton areas … We definitely want people to come here and still visit the tree,” he said.

“Still book the trip and hopefully if it’s in the next year or two there will be the opportunity to come back and climb the trees in some shape or form.”

Paul Trezona grew up in Manjimup and said climbing the tree as a child was a rush.

“There wasn’t all the wiring that you see up there today, there was just the pegs,” he said.

“So we would climb up just the pegs and you would hang on.

“Maybe there was a bit of white-knuckling in those days.”

Hear Paul Trezona’s memories of climbing the tree before safety wires were installed.

‘Mummy, I did it’

For tourists like Claire and Simon Leonard, from Wales, the thought of climbers not ever being allowed back on the Gloucester Tree was “disappointing”.

Mrs Leonard still remembered the feeling of seeing her daughter climb the tree more than 20 years ago.

“Oh my God. It was the most incredible thing ever. There she is a five-year-old, in flip flops and she just went up there like a drainpipe basically and she went right to the top,” she said.

“[My daughter exclaimed], ‘Mummy, I did it!

“Personally, I would be gutted [if it closed]. You know when you associate a place with memories?

UK visitors Claire and Simon Leonard had hoped to climb the Gloucester Tree.(ABC South West: Jacqueline Lynch)

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