From The West Australian: Weekend West Travel, 6 May 2017.
Rueben Hale meets a group of 4WD enthusiasts committed to conserving the land they love exploring.
Four-wheel-drivers have often been labelled as eco-terrorists but for a growing group of adventuring conservationists, protecting the environment will always come first.
Each year more and more people buy off-road vehicles with dreams to explore the many hundreds of trails leading to some of Western Australia's most spectacular locations. The crystal-clear coastal waters, the expansive waterways, national parks and vast deserts all contribute to the fun and adventure on offer.
But for lifelong off-road enthusiast John Collins, and others like him, the desire to preserve the country has become more important than any freedom they had initially sought with four-wheel adventuring.
Station buildings at the former Woolgorong Station - one example of Track Care WA's volunteer heritage restoration work.
It was a desire that led to the formation of Track Care WA.
The organisation has brought the 4WD community together to rehabilitate and maintain the outback environment in which they love to travel.
The club will celebrate turning 20 years old in August, when all who have contributed their time will be able to look back proudly at the work that has been done. Starting in the early days with a focus on fixing the popular and historic Canning Stock Route, Track Care has today expanded its passion and expertise to work on rehabilitating some of the State's most popular country for adventurers.
"A growing number of people in the 4WD community had become very concerned about what they observed was happening to the country and about what sort of long-term impact recreational vehicles travelling up and down popular tracks could have, if left unchecked in the longer term."
"We could see that many of the tracks and places we loved to travel were in a state of disrepair and continuing to deteriorate," Track Care WA chairman John Collins said.
"Many of the tracks had become un-drivable and the availability of water was not reliable with many of the wells dry. Also, there was limited access to toilets, showers and designated camping areas along the 2000km Canning Stock Route track. That became a precipice point for our organisation."
Mr Collins said in the early years Track Care identified a number of track-management projects along the famous stock route, which they could incorporate into their off-road hobby to rehabilitate land and restore infrastructure as part of their travels.
"We realised there was also a whole lot of things volunteer organisations could do to help mitigate some of the deterioration and damage," he said.
"We planned track repair, well restoration and amenity projects around the greatest need areas to keep the track as accessible as possible for people wanting to use it." Mr Collins said thanks to the efforts of Track Care and other volunteers, accessibility along the stock route is now much improved.
"Re-timbering the wells has been a major project for us so that people have a guaranteed water supply at manageable distances apart from where the tracks starts in Wiluna and to where it ends in Halls Creek," he said.
"It was never our intention to refurbish all of the wells but simply to provide some additional water for people in otherwise really dry and remote desert areas.
"Recently we have also built shelters displaying both indigenous and European history and completed earthworks to divert water from causing erosion at some places along the trail." Mr Collins said the tour operator Outback Spirit had funded a toilet alongside a well the group had recently completed near Halls Creek.
"The tourism industry is always very appreciative of the work our organisation and others like it does because it helps them with their business," he said.
"As a result the industry has donated a lot of money to Track Care over the years to buy building materials to go and repair different things." Track Care has joined with other conservation groups and the Government to take part in clean-ups, infrastructure preservation and land rehabilitation projects across WA.
"We want to be part of restoring and preserving the land for future generations and that means we are open to getting involved wherever there is a need for expertise and labour," Mr Collins said.
The latest project is with the Department of Parks and Wildlife to develop a self-guided recreation trail near Perenjori.
"Damperwah State Farm was built in 1929 by the Department of Agriculture to experiment with the growing of various strains of wheat with a focus on low water requirements," he said.
"Without this valuable research, it is debatable we would have the worldleading wheat industry we have today in Western Australia.
"Our members have been clearing rubbish off the site, identifying items of heritage value and interest which will be put on display at other visitor locations in the area and erecting fences around four buildings which have deteriorated to the point they cannot be restored and are a danger to the public.
"We have also partnered with Indigenous groups working on pastoral rehabilitation projects, as part of the push for the Create Ranger Parks proposal before government at the moment."
Mr Collins said he hopes that more people interested in four-wheel-driving will also take part in conservation projects in the future.
"One of the problems we encounter is that many people don't regard our interest as a legitimate recreational pursuit but the aim of our group is to do whatever you can to maintain access to the land," he said.
"Government has never really lent its support to establishing planned off-road recreation with appropriate minimum standards, so it's up to people to get involved and make a difference."
By Rueben Hale, The West Australian: Weekend West Travel, 6 May 2017.