Australian Park Rangers Help Local Counterparts In PNG Maintain Kokoda Track

Famous WWII trail vulnerable to erosion from mostly Aussie trekkers

By PNG correspondent Eric Tlozek

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, April 21, 2017) – National park rangers from Australia have travelled to Papua New Guinea to help local people maintain the famous Kokoda Track.

The wartime trail is vulnerable to erosion and damage from the thousands of trekkers who use it every year, and both Australian and PNG authorities want to improve how it's managed.

Groups of Queensland national park rangers are working with their counterparts from the Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) and local villagers on the track maintenance.

Stuart Johnson, a ranger from Toowoomba, is one of the team leaders.

"We'll be looking at ways in which we can shed water off the track," he said.

"We'll be looking at ways we might be able to put steps in over reaches of track that don't have steps on them, and we'll try to do that in a way that maintains the character of the track.

"We're not here to make it look like a Queensland park."

The Queensland rangers are experienced in track work and maintenance in national parks, and they are showing the villagers some of the techniques rangers use to protect tracks against erosion.

They also want to use the skills and knowledge local people have about how to maintain the track.

The program is being coordinated by Artie Jacobson, a former Queensland ranger who now works for the Australian Government within KTA.

"It's not just going out and fixing the potholes, we're working with the KTA rangers and Queensland Park rangers to enable the KTA rangers and communities to do more on their land, and their track," Mr Jacobson said.

There are 10 local people being employed to work on this section of the track, but many more are helping.

They will benefit from improvements to the track because they use it every day — to travel between villages, collect water and harvest food.

Local villager Kelvin Sie is one of those helping.

"We are fixing the path, digging a drain and stopping the rainwater from damaging it," he said.

"I like it because it's good to look after our track, especially for the white people who walk the track."

More than 3,500 tourists, mostly Australians, walk the track every year, making it PNG's most popular tourist destination.

But conducting maintenance on the trail is difficult because of its isolation.

Kokoda Track Authority ranger Nuxsie Momoa said local people wanted to improve the track so more tourists would visit.

"We need to upgrade the track so the trekkers that live in Australia will come and walk the trail, they will feel good and more trekkers will come to this country," he said. 

The track is justifiably famous for being extremely rugged and tough to walk.

Mr Jacobson said the work wouldn't change that or detract from the experience of trekking.

"The topography is quite extreme," he said. "There are parts of the track that have been seriously degraded as a result of accelerated erosion that need to be worked on.

"What we don't want to be is change the fabric and as a consequence the experience of the trekkers who come to experience the track."

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