Riverglades wetland is safe – now it’s time to hand it over

Residents of Murray Bridge's east side saved the Riverglades wetland from developers in 1988. Now comes its next chapter.

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The stewards of the Riverglades wetland have declared their mission accomplished.

Back in the 1980s, as the population of Murray Bridge’s east side grew, residents worried that a developer might come and build a marina in their secluded paradise.

Rather than let that happen, they pooled their resources and bought a stretch of riverfront land themselves.

The Riverglades wetland has remained open to the public ever since, despite being privately owned, and has become an ever more popular destination for walkers, families and carp-catchers.

Now, after 33 years, the residents’ association is satisfied that it has served its purpose.

At a meeting last Tuesday night, a majority of members voted in favour of offering the wetland for sale to the Murray Bridge council, to be preserved in perpetuity as a public park with community land status.

The details are yet to be negotiated, but the Murray Bridge council has agreed in principle to the handover.

The chairman of Riverglades Community Wetlands Incorporated, Ken Millsteed, said the move would fulfil the association’s motto: “a community caring for its wetlands”.

“This could effectively transfer the wetlands to the wider community, while still allowing local engagement with volunteer programs covering general and environmental care,” he said in a statement on behalf of the association.

“The outcome of this transfer would allow the wider Riverglades community to directly engage in the welfare of this most valuable asset.

“The land (would become), in essence, ‘theirs’ and not owned by a few.”

The Riverglades wetland has functioned like a public park since the 1980s, despite being privately owned and managed. Photo: Graham Hallandal.

About 100 people were originally involved in the effort to save the wetland.

They established the 3.5-kilometre loop trail around its circumference, linking with Avoca Dell Reserve at one end, and installed board walks, interpretive signage, seating and – more recently – a trail of mosaics featuring animals and birds native to the area.

In the early 2000s they attempted to introduce a cycle of controlled wetting and drying, replicating the conditions that would have existed prior to European settlement, to benefit the ecosystem; but the Millennium Drought put an end to that in 2008.

As members grew older, and some left the area, fewer and fewer were available for working bees at the wetland, which started discussions about its long-term future about 18 months ago.

The rising cost of public liability insurance and volunteer registration requirements were also obstacles.

Of course, the association’s decision was not reached without a fierce debate.

A flyer circulated among local residents had not been not approved by the association’s committee, Mr Millsteed suggested.

Murray Bridge News was invited to last Tuesday night’s meeting by an association member, but Mr Millsteed made it clear on the night that it would be a private affair.

Murray Bridge News understands that a number of members were in favour of holding on to the wetland, believing that recruiting only a handful of new volunteers would be enough to keep it going.

Ultimately, though, the Murray Bridge council has already agreed to take it on, subject to negotiations.

Council CEO Michael Sedgman said councillors had approved the transfer, in principle, back in July.

“We recognise the issue of the association … (whose) original members have endured the passage of time and, having done a great job at that location on the river bank over 40 years, have basically run out of steam,” he said.

A detailed report will be prepared for councillors’ approval after the details of the transfer have been sorted out.

Disclosure: The author lives at Riverglades but is not a member of the association.