The tale of the Misty Mountains Trails started decades ago when a well known character in the logging industry found an amazing lookout southeast of Ravenshoe, a place where he found quiet enjoyment. Years later, his enthusiasm for the Rhyolite Pinnacle, as it is now known, inspired other locals to promote walking in this region where the tourism and recreation potential was not fully realised. It was literally in the back of a bus in 2000 that councillors from Herberton, Eacham, Johnstone and Cardwell Shires, together with a few tour operators, decided to use the Queensland Heritage Trails Network funds for their collective benefit and create a network of trails linking all four shires.
As an experienced Wet Tropics bushwalker with expertise in recreation management in World Heritage Areas, I was pleased to be asked to propose and assess routes for the walking trail network in 2001. My mentor was Ron Hunt, a true far north Queensland character – an experienced shire councillor, successful businessman, outstanding member of local community groups and former worker in the logging industry. His standing garnered the support of two key coastal residents without whom the project would have failed – Ernie Grant, an elder of the local Jirrbal people, and Max Bell who had once marked out trees for logging for the Queensland Forest Service. Each contributed in very different ways to making the trail connections between the Tully Valley and Ravenshoe.
Ernie Grant told us of the long abandoned migration route between the lowlands and the plateau southeast of Ravenshoe. Two associated experiences are burnt indelibly into my memory from exploring these ancient pathways. The first was walking with Ernie along the migration path up a steep ridgeline above Koolmoon Creek in unlogged rainforest. We came across a flattish area and took a break from walking. I looked around and became aware that the understorey shrubs were ‘arranged’ around what appeared to be an old clearing. I asked Ernie if we were at an old campsite and he said ‘yes’. He had not made any prior comment. On a later trip in unlogged and unroaded rainforest on the eastern edge of the Ongera Plateau, I was searching for the top end of this migration trail in a flat bit of landscape. The rainforest structure was quite good but I saw a ‘lineation’ through the trees, something quite indefinable but worth a look. On the ground, leading through the lawyer cane clumps, was a distinct shallow footpad – not a drainage line but the evidence of thousands of years of barefoot walking. I followed the old footpad and it led eventually to the very top of the ridge where we had walked through the old campsite with Ernie.
Max Bell introduced me to a new way of navigation – not by map and compass, but by the memory of trees. The Tully Valley and southern Ravenshoe logging road networks had never been connected. The gap was only a few hundred metres across and about 30 metres vertically. Crossing the gap between the snig track systems, Max moved from tree to tree, seeking the next one from his memory, heading from the big spurwood to the ridgetop kauri. I asked him if he thought the trees might be a bit nervous seeing him there again but he said, ‘No. It’s alright. I’ve spoken to them’. Then we crossed the gap at a beautiful waterfall. I call it Max Bell’s Falls.
And numerous times we were helped by good luck – finding an unmapped old logging track bulldozed down a cliff to Koolmoon Creek to connect us from Cochable Creek; navigating with compass and aerial photo from one giant strangler fig to the next to a cliff top with a clear view of Elizabeth Grant Falls; and discovering that the forests of the Cannabullen Plateau were still very attractive because a past cyclone had torn only the tops from giant cassowary satinash trees, making them unsuitable for logging.
The Misty Mountains Trails project succeeded with the enthusiastic participation of a diverse range of people who worked together despite their contrasting backgrounds and on-going interests. It may be a model for future success in management of the Wet Tropics.
With majors in botany and geology and a Masters degree in plant ecology, Andrew was a CSIRO project scientist working on rainforest ecology in far north Queensland. His research and bushwalking interests led to a Churchill Fellowship in the Pacific Northwest of USA and Canada examining recreation management in World Heritage forests. After leaving CSIRO in 2003 he worked on recreation planning in southeast Queensland until 2006 and then retired. Andrew received a Cassowary Award for Science in 2005.
Growing up in Cairns, Mike developed a keen interest in ecology and photography. After various jobs and a stint as a tour guide he began work at the Environmental Protection Agency where he still works assessing development proposals. Mike’s natural history photos have appeared in more than 200 books and other publications worldwide – in posters, postcards, bookmarks, newspapers, magazines, brochures and advertising. His photos include now extinct species and the first photos of particular Wet Tropics animals. Mike has assisted in the discovery and description of new species and published scientific papers in a variety of fields. He is a generalist with expertise in disciplines such as aquatic ecology and terrestrial vertebrate animals. His other interests include tropical fruits, fish, biogeography and climate.
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