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Hay council defends keeping free camp site open during coronavirus pandemic

ABC Health logo ABC Health 30/07/2020 By Gemma Piali and Lauren Pezet
a person standing next to a tree in a park: Hay Shire Council says a ranger takes details of all campers at its Sandy Point free camp site at 5:00pm each day. (Supplied: Hay Shire Council) © Provided by ABC Health Hay Shire Council says a ranger takes details of all campers at its Sandy Point free camp site at 5:00pm each day. (Supplied: Hay Shire Council)

A southern New South Wales council has defended its free camping site amid concerns from locals that visitor details have not been recorded.

At the start of July, before the border with Victoria was closed, Hay resident Bob Dougall said he saw about 300 travellers staying at the site on the Murrumbidgee River in one week.

"I find it a little disturbing because we don't know where they have come from, and we don't know what they've brought with them," he said.

"I'm in the age group where if I get coronavirus I'm probably gone, and most of these little towns in the area have a very ageing population."

Hay Shire Council's project manager for economic development, Alison McLean, said council was now recording the details of as many campers as possible with a ranger visiting the site at 5:00pm each day.

"We're pretty sure everyone is generally in there by 5:00pm. If you're setting up camp later than that, you might have left your run a bit late," she said.

Ms McLean said it was an initiative the council was not required to do, and that they also collected details of all visitors to the Tourist Information Centre.

"We think it's a really good opportunity for us to connect with those visitors and to gather that information, in case we needed to do any kind of contact tracing," she said.

Minister for Tourism Stuart Ayers did not answer the ABC's questions about whether or not the collection of details at free camp sites should be mandated.

A statement attributed to a NSW Government spokeswoman encouraged travellers to practise social distancing and wash their hands.

The new owner of the Hay Caravan Park, Julie Lawrence, did not think the council's efforts went far enough.

"You could send a ranger to take names and addresses at say 5:00pm, but then 10 people could turn up at 5:30pm after he has been," she said.

"So you just don't have a full account of the people who go through there."

Dispute over value of free camping

Ms Lawrence was also concerned about the impact of the free option on her business and wanted the site closed.

"If someone did get coronavirus there would be accountability [for the caravan parks]," she said.

"And for the two caravan parks in Hay, who are rate-paying businesses, it would be good if council supported their businesses."

But the Hay Shire Council said the contribution to the town's economy made it worthwhile.

"We've had some analysis done that suggests that the free camping contributes about $1 million to our economy every year and that equates to about 13 jobs in our town," Ms McLean said.

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