The river is the jewel in Yass Valley’s crown and plans are in motion to showcase its natural beauty to the rest of the world as more public spaces are opened up.
Yass Valley Councillor and resident of 57 years Cr Kim Turner has been spruiking the wonders of the river to anyone who will listen since he was involved in the bicentennial weir project in 1988.
He hopes the new Yass Valley Open Space Strategy will include activating an untouched section of the Yass River foreshore from the Yass Dam down to the railway weir, making it more accessible for locals and visitors.
“The Yass Valley is a hidden gem and, I believe, one of the great places of the world,” he said.
“The river is a natural treasure and could be a real showpiece for our region.”
A $1.7 million NSW Government grant will see an upgrade of the Riverbank Park commence soon; however, Cr Turner says that should be just the start of great things for the town.
He hopes local residents and business operators will step up and join the council’s Open Space Strategy Committee, which will ensure high-quality, accessible open space across the Yass Valley, meeting environmental, cultural and financial obligations.
Cr Turner says the riverfront and Yass Gorge are untapped natural attractions that could be activated to draw tourists to the region, which has been known as a “transit town” for those travelling from Sydney to Melbourne.
“We want people to stop here and discover the natural beauty of our town and meet the friendly locals,” he added.
And, with new developments underway, Cr Turner says creating more open space and making the river attractive for locals is also a high priority.
“I don’t want Yass to look like the suburbs of Canberra. If we’re going to accommodate the huge number of people that want to live in the most beautiful part of the world, we need to ensure there is adequate green space for them to enjoy every day.
“We’ve seen with the pandemic that people need to be able to access open space and fresh air and not be confined to the four walls of their residence.
“Creating more open space and linking these public areas together will benefit our new residents, existing residents and visitors.”
He says more dedicated parks in housing subdivisions, wider footpaths and pathways were crucial to retaining the country town feel.
Yass Council general manager Chris Berry said members of the new committee would help play a significant role in making Yass a better place to live and visit.
“The final strategy will establish a framework for the acquisition of new open space assets by council, together with the new level of facilities required,” Mr Berry said.
There is currently limited public access to the Yass River with a small circuit of about 1.6 km of footpath around Riverbank Park.
A further 1.7 km section of the Yass River is set to open up as part of the new Yarrah community, with Riverfront Park concept plans including a shared pathway along the river, picnic areas, playgrounds and public artwork.
Yarrah urban and landscape designer Michael Chapman said 20 per cent of the development site would be dedicated as parkland, with the proposal to include significant riparian plantings and bank treatments to protect the river and access points for canoeing and kayaking.
Yass Valley Council currently has an application with Transport for NSW to transform the disused rail corridor into a reinvigorated rail trail which, when combined with the planned river corridor path, would create a loop circuit that Yass currently doesn’t have.
Yarrah project manager Jack Walker believes open space is crucial for residents, especially young families and older residents. He says the Riverfront Park pathway and rail trail could provide “enormous opportunities” for the community and local businesses in the Yass Valley.
“Beyond being a new trail, the river corridor could prove fertile grounds for future community-run events, and maybe we could see Sculptures in the Paddock return home to Yass, but instead become Sculptures by the River,” he added.
Council’s strategic planning manager Liz Makin said although an application has not yet been submitted for the Yarrah Riverfront Park, the riparian area off the development would also provide a linkage to Joe O’Connor Park.
“The focus for this area will be enhancing the natural landscape and protecting biodiversity along the Yass River corridor,” she said.
“Management will focus on providing habitat for threatened species and making it accessible for the local community so people can enjoy interacting with nature on the site, while still protecting the site’s environmental values.”