From exploration to ecotourism: Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary’s founder joins Hall of Fame
The man who transformed a 610 square kilometre grazing property and uranium exploration field in South Australia into a world class ecotourism attraction has joined the Australian Prospectors & Miners’ Hall of Fame.
The late Reg Sprigg was inducted on the 7th July 2016 in recognition of his outstanding contribution to geoscience and environmental protection, most notably his establishment of the multi-award winning Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, home to scenery and geology so incredible that it is now protected by its own Act of Parliament.
Reg Sprigg. Image courtesy of Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.
Sprigg first set sights on Arkaroola in 1937 as a student on an annual geology field trip. Nestled in the Flinders Ranges 600 kilometres from Adelaide, Arkaroola is a landscape of towering granite peaks, dramatic gorges and waterholes, home to more than 160 species of birds and the endangered yellow-footed rock-wallaby.
When the drought-affected and partially stock-degraded pastoral lease went up for sale 30 years later (with only a small section being suitable for grazing), Sprigg tried to convince the South Australia Government to protect it as a National Park. When turned down, he and his wife purchased the property themselves.
Yellow-footed rock wallabies with young.
Nearly half a century later, Arkaroola is an incredibly successful wilderness sanctuary and ecotourism attraction thanks to Sprigg’s vision, innovation and determination. Following the concept of Yellowstone National Park in the United States, he devised a zoning scheme to protect areas with different levels of conservation importance, allowing tourism to take place on the property without threatening its flora and fauna.
Sprigg created three zones: the Wilderness Zone (no tracks or vehicle access), the Ridgetop Zone (only accessible by Arkaroola vehicles or approved vehicles such as university groups) and the Multi-use Zone (tracks open to visitors with 4WDs). Despite many setbacks, he worked tirelessly to secure the long-term protection of Arkaroola’s natural marvels and to develop tracks, buildings and infrastructure for tourism. Because Arkaroola was too remote to attract many tourists early on, he and his wife funded infrastructure development themselves.
Thanks to Sprigg’s long-term conservation vision, wallabies and wallaroos now bound over land once designated for mining and agriculture. Many species that were previously under threat from sheep stock pressures - including threatened species found only in South Australia - have recovered and are thriving. In 2012, the South Australia State Government legislated the Arkaroola Protection Act, officially safeguarding Arkaroola from mining and preserving its geological landscape.
A Red-barred dragon.
Arkaroola, developed as an ecotourism attraction 30 years before the word was officially invented, became the first FlindersRanges tourist organisation to achieve Ecotourism Australia’s Advanced Ecotourism certification and now offers 12 Advanced Ecotourism-certified tours.
These range from animal and bird watching (including threatened yellow-footed rock-wallabies, Peregrine falcons and bats), astronomy and flights to geology-based 4WD tours. The world famous 4WD Ridgetop Tour journeys through some of the most spectacularly wild and rugged country on Earth, across razor-back ridges and to the depths of ancient seabeds and the near-vertical cliffs in Bararranna Gorge composed of ancient glacial sediments from a once ice-covered Earth.
Sprigg always possessed an immense passion for both geology and environmental conservation. He earned a B.Sc in Geology and Zoology, a B.Sc (Hons) and an M.Sc in Geology, became the youngest Fellow of the Royal Society of SA while still in his teens and is known for discovering some of the most ancient animal fossils known, the Ediacara biota.
His unfailing efforts demonstrate that land once used for mining and agriculture can protect natural heritage for the future. Today, Sprigg’s family and the Arkaroola Research and Education Foundation continue his legacy of protecting Arkaroola’s environment and educating students, industry and the public about geology and ecology.
Visit www.arkaroola.com.au to learn more about Arkaroola, its history, its founder and its tours.
Images courtesy of Arkaroola’s Facebook page.