Boroondara Bushwalkers show that where there is a will, there is a way!

Article by Lyn Atkinson and images by Fran Callinan

Like all bushwalkers, we were dismayed at Boroondara Bushwalkers when the initial COVID-19 restrictions were announced in late March by the thought of no bushwalking. We followed advice and cancelled all walks until the end of June.

But then came the glimmer of light in mid-May. Restricted walks were allowed: limited numbers, no carpooling, keeping 1.5m apart, no shared food or afternoon coffee stops after the walk. The committee leaped into action and put together a program of day walks that satisfied the new rules.

This is the story of what we did, what we learned, and how it all went.

The first problem to overcome was that our members traditionally signed up for walks on a sheet of paper at a monthly meeting. A minority would phone or email the leader directly. Our IT experts quickly implemented a system of online sign-up using links to Google Docs from a members-only page on our website. This proved easy to use, although it involved a lot of effort to maintain.

A request went out to leaders to submit suitable walks close to the city, and they responded enthusiastically. In the 48 days between our first “COVID Walk” on 22 May and the reintroduction of hard lockdown on 9 July, the club offered 35 walks.  Seventy percent were weekday walks, in stark contrast to our usual program where two-thirds of day walks are held on weekends. Most participating leaders offered two or three walks. One outstanding contributor put together a five-stage odyssey along the Darebin Creek from Willsmere Park to Billabong Circuit. He identified suitable parking areas, lunch and toilet stops. His plan enabled circuit walks ranging from 10 to 14km along both sides of the creek. Thanks to recent good rainfall there was a plentiful flow of water and a surprising abundance of birdlife in the bushy surrounds.

Plenty River Gorge Bundoora 1

Plenty River Gorge Bundoora

A total of 80 people, sixty percent of our total active walkers for 2020,  participated in at least one of these COVID walks. Over half of the walkers completed up to three walks during the restriction period, while a couple of intrepid members made double figures! Members quickly adapted to the new ways of signing up for walks and were not troubled by any perceived virus risk.

Maximum group numbers allowed changed from 10 to 20 then back to 10, necessitating quick communication to leaders and members. For a few walks, those on a waiting list missed out. Some popular walks with long waiting lists were divided into two sections, departing half an hour apart. This required and extra leader to step up at the eleventh hour. Overall the club averaged 9 participants per walk.

The total distance walked by all participants was approximately 3500km. Walking in a relay, that would have got us from Melbourne to Perth, notwithstanding that no one was allowed to cross state borders!

Darebin Creek

Darebin Creek

Two lasting benefits have come from the lockdown situation. Firstly, we have gained an online sign-up system that can continue into the future. Secondly, we have discovered a multitude of new walks in Melbourne’s abundant green spaces. Our walks coordinators are now compiling a resource of maps and track notes which will be made available to members. This will be a great innovation, particularly while we may only exercise in pairs.

While everyone is looking forward to the time when we can resume our traditional walks, we have made the best of the situation to maintain the twin benefits of fitness and mental wellbeing that comes from bushwalking.

Bolin Bolin track Bulleen

Bolin Bolin Track in Bulleen

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