Could we connect the Murray to Mountains and High Country Rail Trails?

Two of Victoria’s longest and most popular rail trails are separated by a mere 30 km stretch of path. Closing the gap could open the region.

The land section in question sits between the towns of Yackandandah and Huon in Victoria’s beautiful northeast.

Yackandandah is the endpoint of one branch of the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail (M2M). This rail trail currently has a ‘two-pronged’ layout, with one section extending east towards Bright, and another heading northeast to Yackandandah via Beechworth.

Huon is one of the town stops for the High Country Rail Trail (HCRT), a 80 km stretch of old railway corridor between Albury/Wodonga and Shelley. Huon is roughly 17km along the trail from Wodonga and offers sweeping vistas of the adjacent Lake Hume.

Fine-tuning the rail trails

Both trails have undergone upgrades and extensions over recent years, and these will continue into the future. The Yackandandah to Beechworth section of the M2M is a $6 million project funded at the local and state level, and is in its final stages of construction. A key step to completion is planning and building the trail along Kibell Lane just outside of Beechworth, which is currently an on-road thoroughfare. The project is scheduled for completion in February 2023. 

The HCRT is now sealed virtually all the way from Wodonga to Tallangatta with the remaining two path diversions to Shelley to be bridged over the next year.

The HCRT is yet to secure funding to complete the 21km section to Cudgewa, which requires replacement of three burnt trestle bridges and a bridge detour around an historic trestle bridge in the Upper Murray.

“It would be nice to see $6 million expended in the Upper Murray on the last sections of the High Country Rail Trail,” says Ant Packer, a community ranger with Parklands Albury-Wodonga.

Ant says a strong investment to restoring the HCRT would bring “economic benefits to a bushfire impacted community that is now bracing for the impacts of structural reform within the forestry industry”.

Connecting the trails

Once both rail trails have been fully upgraded, in particular the HCRT, there may be a tantalising discussion about the tiny sliver that separates them.

An extension of M2M Rail Trail, from Osbornes Flat (Yackandandah) to Huon to Huon has been earmarked by Indigo Shire Council since at least 2016.

In their Cycling Optimisation Strategy, the Council report that the extension would ‘enable a three day experience to be offered to visitors, thereby elevating the trail to an experience of national and international appeal. The extension has the capability to attract out of region, long-distance trail riders who will spend money in the local towns and wider region’.

The connection was later earmarked as a potential project in Indigo Shire’s 2018 Economic Development Strategy and later in the 2021 ‘Ride it, Walk it, Indigo’ report.

Indeed, this would be a massive win for the region. Connecting the trails, in effect, would connect the regional cities for walkers and bike riders. It would allow residents to actively travel north- and southbound, rather than just east to west and vice versa. It would spread the economic stimulus generated by bike tourism over a much wider area.  

But, let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet. While this is all very tantalising to speculate over, both rail trails need to be fit-for-purpose before this exciting prospect could be considered. The Yackandandah to Beechworth rail trail section is yet to be completed.

The completion of the Upper Murray section of the HCRT with it’s spectacular trestle bridges would be an attraction in itself, as well as a short drive to the popular Tumbarumba to Rosewood Rail Trail.

“What Corryong and the Upper Murray need now is transformative change. Cycle tourism could be the catalyst for that change if there was an economic transformation investment,” says Ant Packer.

If we can tick off these urgent needs in the foreground, and secure enough interest for connecting the trails, we could see one of Australia’s first rail trail networks.

In the meantime, why not take the trip out and experience these amazing rail trails? You can enjoy local food and wine, take in wonderful scenery, and enjoy these wonderful pieces of heritage. 

You can find up-to-date information on both trails on the Rail Trails Australia website.

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