Barrington Tops access road from Gloucester still shut, authorities warn access from Scone dangerous

WINTER: The Polblue Campground at the Barrington Tops in 2020. Picture: Rob Balint
WINTER: The Polblue Campground at the Barrington Tops in 2020. Picture: Rob Balint

Snow chasers are being advised against heading to Barrington Tops this season as the effect of storms earlier in the year year are still being felt on the rural access roads.

The Tops are expected to receive their first dusting of snow for the year on Wednesday, but access from Gloucester remains closed due to a section of Barrington Tops State Forest Road being "dangerously unstable" after suffering major structural damage in the March floods.

Forestry Corporation of NSW said there was a "high risk the roads might collapse".

"It's in a bad way, it's saturated still," Forestry Corporation of NSW protection forester Mick Wilson said. "Internally there are cracks through it and the team are doing X-rays on it."

There is alternate access to the Tops through Scone, but Mr Wilson said that road was not built to sustain the amount of traffic it would receive due to the road closure.

Upper Hunter Shire Council acting director infrastructure services, Phillip Hood, added that the Scone route was not equipped to handle the extra traffic volume.

"While access to the Barrington Tops from Scone is currently available, the unsealed road section is steep, narrow and winding, and ice and snow can make driving here extremely dangerous, even for 4WDs," he said.

"The road is not designed for large amounts of traffic, even at the best of times. People who wish to see the snow are advised that the Northern Tablelands is a better choice, with the snow forecast being widespread from Nowendoc/Nundle to Walcha/Armidale.

"With strong winds, there is also potential for trees and branches to fall, posing a direct risk to visitors, and possibly blocking access into and out of the area."

"That road is really steep and winding and it's dirt," he said. "It's going to be wet, windy and icy and there are going to be hundreds of cars wanting to go up there. No one can go overseas so the volume of traffic even without this closure would lead to incidents."

Mr Wilson said he understood people would be frustrated, but that it wasn't safe to go up there at the moment.

"We know people want to go there," he said. "I'm really concerned about the Gloucester and Scone communities who have suffered the loss of tourism. I sounds like a killjoy but there's no magic wand we can use. It snows there every year so people will just have to go another time."

Forestry Corporation of NSW's forest stewardship senior manager Kathy Lyons said fixing Barrington Tops State Forest Road was a priority and engineering assessments had been fast tracked.

"It is absolutely a top priority for repair," Ms Lyons said. "We are working as quickly as we can to assess and develop a repair program and have engaged engineers to assist. Early indications suggest significant works are required to repair the damage."

But some snow goers have said the road was already in need of upgrades before the closure.

Raymond Terrace man Brendan Coleman has been visiting the Tops for about four years. He has been driving through Scone to access the site since March, adding about half an hour to the trip.

"My opinion is that it should've been fixed by now," he said. "The road could be better if it was graded, it's very bumpy. I wouldn't take a good two-wheel-drive up there because you just bugger up your shocks."

Michael Lintott has been going to the Tops since he was a kid and said the traffic had been getting worse and worse. He said it was good the road had been closed to prevent someone being hurt.

"[The road] was in dire straits and needed major repairs prior to this," he said. "With the amount of traffic if it starts to snow it would only be a matter of time before someone was injured or killed on that road.

"Although at the same time, it's a shame for the businesses in Gloucester."

Mr Wilson said the repairs were "very, very weather dependent" but it was hoped to have the road open for next winter.

A safety warning is in place for the Barrington Tops across the long weekend. Snow and strong winds are expected to affect the Barrington Tops.

"During extreme weather, the status of roads on Barrington Tops can change at short notice, including during your visit. This could prevent access to or from snow covered areas and visitors may either have to turn back after long periods of travel, or even become stuck in sub-zero temperatures," Mr Hood said.

He added that it was vital that visitors planning a trip to the Barrington Tops were prepared for rapidly changing extreme weather including rain or snow, strong winds and sub-zero temperatures.

"If you get stuck or are involved in an accident, help may be several hours away. Always pack additional warm clothing and extra food and water, and tell someone where you are going and when you'll be back."

This story Snow no go as Barrington Tops access road still shut first appeared on Hunter Valley News.