$57m Mokoan tourist plan

AN ambitious $57 million plan to turn Lake Mokoan into an environmental tourist hotspot has been unveiled.

The Winton Wetlands Committee of Management this week launched its master plan — more than $5 million will be spent in three to five years.

Committee chairman Dr Dennis O’Brien said the immediate priority was a bike track though the wetlands linking to the Murray to Mountains rail trail.

“We will take this to the people in coming weeks but we would expect to get on with this work early next year,” he said.

“The first stage of this project is, we believe, purposely realistic and achievable.

“The bike trail will effectively extend from Benalla into a network of bike trails within the wetlands site and, in turn, link externally into the existing high country bicycle network, including the popular Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail.”

The first stage also includes camping grounds; picnic and barbecue areas; lookouts; access to key locations within the wetlands and the development of a general hub store-cafe and a major children’s playground.

Dr O’Brien said the second stage of the master plan was much grander and would need private investment.

He said in the next 10 years the wetlands would evolve into a major tourist attraction for bird watchers, stargazers, bushwalkers, cyclists, campers, wildlife lovers and photographers.

“The Winton Wetlands is envisioned as the backdrop for a range of tourist activities such as guided tours of the reserve, concerts and events, tethered balloon rides, night canoeing, guided fauna tours, a centre for culture and history, sound and light shows, local food and wine as well as a range of accommodation options,” he said.

“We are also looking to redevelop the old Lake Mokoan yacht club.

“It was designed to have a second floor and we are looking at how we can redevelop that with a viewing platform and an innovative design that fits with the environment.

“There were people who were disappointed when Lake Mokoan was decomissioned but we believe they will be more than happy with what we are planning.”

A series of public consultations will be held on Thursday week in Wangaratta, Benalla and at the wetlands.

Funding for the first stage will be taken from the Victorian government’s $20 million endowment to the wetlands after the man-made lake was drained as part of its decommissioning.

Lake Mokoan was created in 1971 when water was diverted into Winton Swamp.