Access Management

Providing public access to the coast is important but controlling access is often necessary to protect coastal landforms and to maintain public safety. It is important to plan road and track development, and to control illegal tracks, particularly in sensitive locations such as actively mobile sand dunes, Aboriginal places, and penguin and shearwater colonies. Proper planning, design, construction and maintenance of structures will help to increase their life span, save money and minimise impacts on coastal values. Promoting environmentally responsible practices to the public (e.g. with signs and education programs) will encourage people to respect access control measures and stay on defined tracks.

Constructing roads, tracks, paths and fences on unstable landforms, such as sand dunes, requires good technical advice, to ensure effort and money is not wasted. Inappropriately designed or sited access management works can easily be destroyed by wind, waves or overuse, or lead to degradation.

​Off Road Vehicle Access

Vehicle access to beaches needs to be very carefully managed and in many areas it is illegal or should be prevented. Vehicles are a hazard to other beach users and can harm the coastal environment in a number of ways, including destruction of shorebird nesting sites, compaction of sand which impacts on animals living in the sand (meiofauna), erosion of fragile dune areas, destruction of wetlands and introduction of weeds and diseases.

Where vehicle access is permitted, encourage visitors to use designated access tracks through the use of markers, signs and fencing and by working with recreational vehicle groups and tourism operators to increase awareness of coastal values and threats.

Where 4WD vehicles are crossing sand dunes indiscriminately, encourage drivers to use one main track. This might be achieved by upgrading and stabilising the main track, as most drivers prefer good tracks. The other tracks can then be rehabilitated.

Manage public access to reduce the potential for damage by off-road vehicles. Consider road barriers such as very big rocks or bollards for protecting values where other measures, such as signs, have failed to prevent illegal activities.

Very big rocks can be used as a barrier. Landscaping them into the ground makes them harder to move and less confrontational in appearance. A line of rocks in the open can be seen as a challenge by users who feel disenfranchised or aggrieved by the barriers.

Regular inspections and maintenance will be required, to ensure that barriers remain in place and are working effectively.

​Walking Tracks and Trails

This section deals predominantly with walking tracks along the coastline. However, some tracks are shared by a variety of user groups and land managers are increasingly recognising the importance of catering for these multiple uses.

Coastal tracks and trails provide access to foreshore areas, linkages between coastal sites and, in some instances, recreational opportunities for various user groups such as mountain-bike riders and horseriders. The design of coastal tracks needs to consider the purpose of the track, the user groups, the local coastal processes and the natural and cultural values of the area.

Careful planning and quality construction by skilled and trained track workers are the keys to success and can greatly reduce the cost and amount of future maintenance. Planning for ongoing maintenance is essential. Before approving new tracks, consider the capacity and resources available to maintain the existing ones.

Tracks cannot be constructed on public land without the authority of the land manager. The land manager may be the local council or DPIPWE (Parks and Wildlife Service). Assessments and approvals may be required to protect natural and cultural values. Land managers should commit to ongoing maintenance and allocate the appropriate resources.

Site Selection

Careful planning and choosing the appropriate site will minimise impacts and future maintenance needs.
  • Access ways and tracks through sand dunes should be sited in natural gullies. Avoid creating tracks on dune crests. Unvegetated dunes, cliff tops, wetland edges and potential landslip zones are unstable areas and may be unsuitable.
  • Avoid works on or near beaches and foredunes, unless they are required to provide access to the shoreline.
  • Avoid or minimise interference with the natural coastal processes and reduce exposure to severe wave action.
  • Avoid disturbing significant natural or cultural heritage values.
  • Choose already disturbed sites where people want to go (e.g. where people usually cross dunes), wherever possible. This will lead to greater public acceptance and use of these tracks. Aim to reduce the number of access points through dune systems.
  • Follow the contours of the land where appropriate. This will often be more cost-effective and have less impact on the landscape than other options.

​Boardwalks, Steps, Sand Ladders and Viewing Platforms

This section deals with the installation of hard structures on coastal tracks to provide access to beaches and coastal areas or to protect sensitive coastal values.

Hard access structures such as boardwalks and steps can provide for improved access to coastal areas and enhanced recreational experiences. They can also provide protection for sensitive areas and landscapes whilst allowing visitors access to enjoy these environments.

Hard structures can be made from variety of materials, with new products (such as recycled plastics) being developed all the time. All are expensive to install and must satisfy building approvals to meet Australian Standards and require a high level of ongoing maintenance. Do not consider new structures unless there is the capacity and resources to maintain them. Plan for their replacement in approximately 20 to 25 years and prepare an asset management plan and asset replacement plan for all structures on tracks.

In high-use coastal areas and adjacent coastal facilities, such structures are often necessary to provide access whilst minimising impacts such as destabilisation of dunes.

Special care will be required during construction to prevent and control erosion as sandy shorelines are often unstable and subject to erosion. Structures that extend across the shore must be appropriately designed and placed to minimise damage from salt water and wave action.

Boardwalks are useful for controlling access and protecting highly sensitive or fragile areas. Steps are useful for providing access through foredunes or down steep coastal foreshores. Steps can be completely elevated timber structures or a timber and gravel combination built into the contour of the land. Whilst the installation of boardwalks and steps will involve some disturbance, they minimise ongoing disturbance and erosion due to foot traffic, making them useful in high-use areas.

In areas with high visitor numbers, the boardwalk width should allow for two-way flow and have step runners (guides along the edges of the steps) to discourage walkers from deviating around the steps and causing erosion.

Protect the edges of boardwalks with scrub, jute mesh or similar materials and consider fencing alongside to encourage people to stay on the track.

​Sand Ladder (Board-and-Chain)

Sand ladders are better than steps on some steep dune faces (e.g. on eroding beaches). Ladders work best if erosion is caused mainly by walkers or wind rather than waves.

Ensure board-and-chain slats are a suitable distance apart for easy walking (e.g. 150-200mm between 100mm-wide boards). As a general guide, increase the spacing on steeper slopes (e.g. on sand ladders) to make them safer to climb. Refer to the Coastal dune management: a manual of coastal dune management and rehabilitation techniques (Department of Land and Water Conservation 2001).

Sand ladders on sand-dune faces need to be flexible, so they can adjust (or be adjusted) to the changing dune profile (e.g. after storm waves). Inspect boards regularly to see whether they need lifting or replacing. Sand ladders may not be suitable in high-use areas or where access needs to cater for a broad cross-section of the community. For example, some elderly people find it hard to walk on sand ladders and the rungs can be a trip hazard if the sand does not build up around them.

Sand ladders are suitable in situations where the level of use is causing erosion but is not high enough to warrant a more expensive structure, and in highly dynamic coastal environments where the risk of loss or damage to hard structures is too high to warrant more expensive steps or boardwalks.

For more information on these and other access management methods, please refer to Chapter 13, Coastal Works Manual.

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