Sunday, 13 March 2016

Blackbutt Trail (Bridgetown Forest Park)

A pleasant forest walk, the many connected loops that make up Bridgetown Forest Park feature a mixed forest of Jarrah, Karri, Blackbutt and Yarri all in one place. The Blackbutt Trail takes in all three other trails in the park, however is marred by poor maintenance in its furthest reaches, collapsed trees and sections of the trail completely overgrown and blocked off. The shorter loop is better, but this is hardly an essential trail. 

Distance: 6.5 km (if all loops and return sections completed)
Gradient: Relatively flat, with no truly steep sections at all. 
Quality of Path: Highly variable, ranging from very clear and obvious sections to very confusing, poorly maintained and overgrown paths. At least one tree has fallen right across the track requiring climbing over. 
Quality of Signage: The first smaller loop (Tree Fallers Trail) is well signed, while the two further sections (Hollow Karri Trail and the extension to the Blackbutt Trail) are very poorly signed. 
Experience Required: The Tree Fallers Trail (first half of the walk) is very easy and could be done with no Bushwalking Experience. The natural obstacles and unclear sections of the later half make the full trail best undertaken by those with some Bushwalking Experience. 
Time: 1.5 Hours
Steps: No steps, although a tree must be climbed over. 
Best Time to Visit: All year round, though best to avoid in very hot weather
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: Access to Bridgetown Forest Park is via Brockman Hwy from Bridgetown. The access road is clearly signed, and is located on the north side of the road before the turn off for Sears Rd. 

While staying overnight in Bridgetown for a Buck's Night, I decided to make the most of the opportunity and check out one of the bushwalks in the area. With Alissa and I walking a section of the Bibbulmun Track that passes through the nearby Greenbushes later in the year, the less well known Bridgetown Forest Park seemed like a good alternative. Consisting of a series of loop tracks, the park's Blackbutt Trail takes in all 3 other walks in the park, and as such seemed like the best way to experience as much of the park as possible. Armed with a walk track guidebook from the Bridgetown Visitor's Centre, I headed out at first light to arrive at the Park for sunrise. 

Contrary to the guidebook, the first few signs in the day use area suggest that there are only two trails - the Shield Tree Trail and the Fallers Brand Trail. It is only upon reaching waypoint 2 that the Hollow Karri Trail is first marked. This is an extension of the Fallers Brand Trail, and the Blackbutt Trail is an even longer extension after the Hollow Karri Trail. 

The track of the Fallers Brand Trail is well marked and easy enough to follow. It is obviously the most popular trail in the park, and features many signs along the way identifying the many species that make up the forest. Quite a few of the Jarrah trees in this area are considerably taller and more mature than the scrappy forests nearer to Perth, and the forest was particularly pleasant so early in the morning. 

At the junction marking the start of the Hollow Karri Trail, a huge tree has fallen (or has been placed) across the track. I should perhaps have taken this as an omen, but with the trail very obvious beyond, I decided to climb over and continue on. 

The section of the trail leading to the Hollow Karri was my favourite section, as the Jarrah forest seen near the start of the trail gives way to some impressive Karri trees. Seeing a clear transitional forest was a rare treat, with the Karri in the area being apparently the most northern stand of the species. 

Even in early March after being ravaged by Summer heat, moss covered logs were everywhere along what I assume is usually a water course in Winter, and the trail would probably be at its best in mid to late August. 

The track was covered in the shed bark of the Karri trees - a common occurrence at this time of the year (March). Deeper into Autumn, these trees will display the multi-coloured bark than gave them their scientific name of Eucalyptus Diversicolor. 

Further along the track I encountered a massive fallen tree covered in interesting speckles of moss and lichens, looking almost like it was painted on. 

Further along the tree stood a fresh termite mound, suggesting much of its insides were being hollowed out. The trail continues on past the tree, but then reaches a confusing dead end. Upon doubling back I realised that the fallen tree was the Hollow Karri, and that the track I had walked beyond it was a false trail. Looking over the tree I could see the trail continue beyond, but it would take considerable effort to climb over this huge tree. Searching for a way around, I saw a gap between the tree's roots and the fallen trunk and made my way around the tree. On the other side, the trail is again marked but some signage indicating how to get around would have been useful. 

The base on the Hollow Karri shows the tree's hollow. While less impressive than the hollows of the Tingle Trees on the Bibbulmun Track, I can imagine it would have been a semi-popular tourist attraction in years gone by. 

Just beyond the Hollow Karri is a junction, with a sign on one path indicating where the Blackbutt Trail's extension begins. 

The area was the most overgrown section of all. It does however feature some more impressive Karri trees, and I was keen to see the Blackbutts that gave this particular loop its name. The track seems to follow the same water course from earlier on, and I imagine the area would be particularly attractive after some good rains. 

The trail eventually leads to a section with so many branches blocking the way I wasn't sure whether it had simply become seriously overgrown or if it had been intentionally blocked off. I tried passing through as I could see the trail continue beyond, but being by myself and with a controlled burn scheduled nearby I decided to err on the side of caution and head back to the point where the Hollow Karri Trail began. One nice thing did happen while I was inspecting the blocked off section however - a wren flew in and stood less than a metre in front of me, darted around for a bit and then flew off. 

Back at the junction with the Hollow Karri Trail, I decided to continue on with the rest of the walk via the Fallers Brand Trail. 

A junction later showed that the Hollow Karri Trail would loop back to join the Fallers Brand Trail, and if I were to walk this trail again I would possibly walk the Hollow Karri Trail in reverse to see how far the loop can be walked in this direction. My guess is that it connects onto the junction where the Blackbutt Trail begins, meaning the Hollow Karri loop is at least still an extant trail. 

The rest of Fallers Brand Trail section was as well maintained as its beginning, and features some decent forest walking, including this section that takes walkers through the branches of a fallen tree. 

Not getting to the furthest reaches of the Blackbutt Trail, it was nice to see a particularly tall and impressive Blackbutt along the Fallers Brand, as well as other good examples of Yarri, Karri, Jarrah and smaller understorey species. 

The Fallers Brand Trail eventually joins onto the Shield Tree Trail, which confusingly ends at the park's access road, meaning the last bit of the walk has to be done along the vehicle track. I didn't see the Shield Tree, but having seen many of these reference trees before, I wasn't particularly fussed trying to look for it. 

From there it was a short walk back to the car park. Having set out to walk the longest of the four trails, I was disappointed to discover the Blackbutt Trail terribly overgrown to the point of being impassable, with the Hollow Karri Trail heading down a similar state of poor maintenance. The fact that the park's signs only indicate that there are two trails in the park suggests that the Hollow Karri's collapse has meant that little attention is being given to the Hollow Karri and Blackbutt Trails and they are being phased out. This is a real shame to me, as the best stretch of the walk was along the Hollow Karri Trail. I hope that future maintenance will restore at least the Hollow Karri Trail to a usable level. While I would not recommend trying the Blackbutt Trail given its impassibility, the rest of the park is worth a look in if you happen to be in the area - but only if you're not going out of your way. It is a good walk, but hardly an amazing one. 


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