Many years ago Dene Cordes, Manager of Community Services for Parks and Wildlife in Adelaide, visited the USA and saw how volunteers were actively involved in managing parks through formalised friends groups. He persuaded the department to set up a similar system here, eventually leading to the formation of over 100 separate Friends of Parks groups in SA.
In 1987 a single volunteer Friends of Parks group began operating across all of KI’s parks and reserves but over time it gradually ran out of momentum. According to Garth Jackson who was one of those early volunteers it was sometimes difficult getting members to show up to working bees if there was a good surf running!
Their projects at the time included the restoration of Edwards Cottage at Grassdale Lagoon, revegetation works at Bales Beach and Kelly Hill Caves and the piecing together of a whale skeleton found almost intact near Seal Bay.
Then almost exactly 20 years ago, on June 18 and 19 1997, Dene Cordes came to KI to facilitate a second, more focused attempt to establish Friends of Parks. It was deemed more realistic to have two groups covering different parts of the island, and so Friends of Cape Gantheaume Conservation Park and Friends of Parks KI Western Districts were formed. Their aims were to enhance the conservation values and visitor experience of KI’s magnificent national parks and reserves.
The 16 founding members of the Friends of Cape Gantheaume Conservation Park group first met at 7.30pm on June 18 1997 at Murray Lagoon Park Headquarters. It was a cool night so the meeting was very quick. The attendees identified the key priorities as developing a D’Estrees Bay self-drive tour, re-vegetation at Murray Lagoon, walking trail maintenance and enhancement, hosting the statewide Friends of Parks Forum and flora and fauna surveys.
Five or six people met at 7.30pm on the following evening at Gosse Hall to form Friends of Parks KI Western Districts. Their early work program included stabilisation works at Kelly Hill Caves, the construction and maintenance of the Return Road Hiking Trail at Cape Borda, and development of the Shackle Road self-drive booklet.
Over the years, the Friends of Cape Gantheaume have completed the D’Estrees Bay self-drive tour, protected Wrights Ruin and the Threshing Floor and managed weeds at D’Estrees Bay, undertaken revegetation at Murray Lagoon, constructed a viewing platform at Bald Hill, maintained the Timber Creek Walking Track, upgraded and maintained the walking Trail at Beyeria Conservation Park and completed numerous flora and fauna surveys.
Friends of Parks KI Western Districts have continued to maintain the Return Road Hike and other walking trails, kept Flinders Chase and Kelly Hill Caves largely free of bridal creeper, contributed to the eradication of feral goats, carried out many flora and fauna surveys, re-vegetated the old access path to Admiral’s Arch, rediscovered an ‘extinct’ butterfly, cleared remote beaches of washed-up rubbish, produced a guide to KI fungi and are currently restoring the decommissioned Shackle Road airstrip.
Both groups have maintained a strong focus of undertaking works unable to be achieved by National Parks staff and a strong commitment to only delivering projects that can be maintained by the groups themselves. They have won many financial grants to assist with their work programs and won many local and state awards recognising their achievements.
These founding Friends groups on the island have been joined in more recent years by the Friends of Dudley Peninsula Parks and Friends of the Glossies.
Anybody keen to volunteer a small amount of time each month should contact Natural Resources KI.
Visit: communitywebs.org/capeganth/; or facebook.com/pages/Friends-of-Parks-Kangaroo-Island-Western-Districts.