Merri Creek Management Committee

Chapter 4.2 Recreation


The strengths of the Merri Creek waterway corridors as recreation resources are the physical landform and landscape character of the valleys (which provide a natural setting and refuge from the surrounding urban environment), the public land along the waterways, the linear nature of the corridors which makes them accessible to a large number of nearby residents, and the existing recreation facilities and settings. Research highlights the particular strength of the Merri Creek corridor for informal recreation in a natural setting.

Weaknesses of the corridors for passive recreation include the lack of public land frontage on the main stem of Merri Creek north of Campbellfield and the northern tributaries, degraded environmental quality, shortcomings in trail quality and development, and limited access at key points.  Additional facilities desired by the community include picnic areas, toilets, barbecues, playgrounds and shelters, although the lack of these facilities in the Merri Creek corridor helps contribute to its natural setting.  Providing these facilities not right next to the creek but in nearby parks provides a good compromise.

In the inner northern suburbs (i.e. Coburg and south) the Merri Parklands are well recognised and well used for informal and formal recreational pursuits.  Since the 1980s, usage in the Merri Parklands south of Moreland Road has dramatically increased. 

Acquisition of parkland, and protection and enhancement of the waterway corridors will play a significant role in satisfying the need for more informal recreation opportunities in the outer and newly developing suburbs.  The proposed Merri Creek Park (Marran baba) is expected to include a number of recreational nodes between areas primarily reserved for conservation uses.

Parkland along the waterway corridors is often in a range of ownerships, making coordination difficult.  This has been addressed in a number of cases by the joint commissioning of site or precinct master plans or management plans.

Table 10 - Ranking of how people spend time at Merri Creek
(top 20 in order from most respondents to least)



Sitting around relaxing


Socialising with family/friends

Supervising childrens play



Studying birds, plants or animals

Walking the dog





Informal sports

Attending special event

Looking at/playing with rocks




Formal sports

The open space of the Merri Creek waterway corridors contains over 28 sporting ovals, five golf facilities, three athletics fields, and a range of other active sporting facilities managed by Councils and Parks Victoria.  These sports grounds are generally well utilised, but cater for a relatively small section of the community[255].  In many cases there are opportunities associated with existing sporting facilities and grounds to provide informal recreational facilities on sportsground surrounds.

Combining the results from the two consultation reports done in preparation for the original strategy (Jan Bruce & Associates, and Context & Diversity Coalition, both 1993), a ranking of how people spend time at the Merri Creek was prepared (see Table 10).  Most of the respondents to both surveys lived south of Mahoneys Road.


The studies asked what existing features were important to participants enjoyment of Merri Creek, and a combined ranking of importance was prepared, which is summarised in Table 11.

The studies also asked what features needed improving or additional facilities were important, and a combined ranking of importance was prepared which is summarised in Table 12.

As a result of these studies, interesting differences emerged between the cultural backgrounds, with some cultural groups giving much more importance to informal recreation facilities such as picnic areas and seats.  Whereas most groups listed formal sports facilities as their most unwanted features, some listed dog walking and horse riding (Context & Diversity 2003).


Table 11 - Important existing features of Merri Creek
(top 20 in order of decreasing importance)



Walking tracks & trails


Wildlife including birds

Nature/conservation areas

The Creek

Plenty of space

Other water features

Bicycle/walking tracks

Bike tracks


Scenic vistas

Not crowded

Lawn areas

Ball games areas

Picnic facilities


Playground equipment

Park/clean park

Sports grounds and reserves



Experience along the Creek shows that while informal recreation facilities are important, without the prior establishment of an attractive setting which generates a sense of local ownership of the site, informal facilities are not used or valued and are likely to be heavily vandalised (e.g. near Emma Street in Fawkner).

A strategic approach is required for the placement of priority facilities (e.g. toilets, picnic tables) at designated locations along the creek.  Establishment of such facilities can commence when the natural setting has been created.  However a better understanding is needed of when a suitably attractive natural setting has been achieved. 

The lack of facilities sometimes places limits on the types of interpretive activities that can be conducted along the creek, and also deters some sectors of the population from visiting the creek. For example, the lack of seating can make it difficult for older people, and a lack of toilets can be difficult for parents with children.

Table 12 - Importance of additional/improved features/facilities
(Merri Creek top 20 in order of decreasing importance)


Picnic areas

More trees and bushland areas

Better access to toilets

Quiet areas

More walking paths


Drinking fountains

Separate walking and cycle paths

Better or more playgrounds and childrens opportunities

More seats

More areas set aside for conservation

Picnic shelters

Opportunities to view wildlife

Linking of Bike paths



Improvement in the quality of existing facilities

More cycle paths

Education/conservation/nature study programs

More or better information

Community feedback continues to give high priority to the provision of picnic areas and toilets.  Their provision will assist in achieving objectives relating to providing fair access to, and engaging, the full spectrum of the community.  Designed and placed properly, these facilities will not negatively impact the natural values of the creek.

The two 1993 consultation reports asked about issues that needed improving along the Creek, and a combined table of the most important is included at Table 13 below.

A number of areas within the waterway parklands are identified in Councils open space strategies as having a district (municipality-wide) catchment, and therefore deserve a higher level of investment in facilities.  These include: Moomba Park Reserve (Fawkner-Reservoir), Lake Reserve and downstream to Bell St (Coburg), Roberts Reserve/Jones/Allard Parks (Brunswick East), CERES/Merri Creek (Brunswick East), Sumner/Kirkdale/Merri Parks (Brunswick East/Northcote), Edwardes Lake Park (on Edgars Creek in Reservoir), and Jack Roper Reserve (and areas upstream on Merlynston Creek in Broadmeadows).


Table 13 - Issues needing improvement along the Creek
(top 20 in order of decreasing importance)


Water quality

Litter along the Creek

Rubbish dumping

Pollution control

Too few trees

Motorbikes/trail bikes

Too much undergrowth



Suitability of tracks for bike usage


Fire hazard of undergrowth

Vermin (rats etc)


Views of factories

Not enough natural areas

Poor water flow

Personal safety when using area

Walking tracks

Views of commercial buildings

Two areas of Merri Creek parkland are identified as servicing a regional catchment, i.e. extending well beyond the municipality which the park is in.  They are Yarra Bend Park/ Hall/Quarries/Ramsden St Reserves including upstream to Miller St Fitzroy (in the City of Yarra), and the proposed Merri Creek Park including the Creek valley from Galada Tamboore to Craigieburn Road (in the cities of Whittlesea and Hume) (Marran baba).

The Merri Creek Trail Review[256] examined usage of the shared pathway along Merri Creek south of Mahoneys Road.  Usage of the pathway peaked between Bell Street and St Georges Road, and this section also had a higher proportion of walkers compared to the upper and lower sections.  The vast majority of users lived in postcode areas immediately adjacent to the creek, although this may partly reflect the distribution of questionnaires. 

Whilst usage of the shared pathway declined, the City of Yarras Open Space Strategy[257] indicates that the Merri Creek linear reserve is an important component of open space, especially for Fitzroy North and Clifton Hill residents.  Reasons to visit Merri Creek included walking, cycling, jogging, dog walking, the views, and to visit a playground.  Personal safety concerns topped the list of reasons people didnt visit the Creek, followed by rubbish in the Creek, dangerous cyclists, lack of time, snakes, too far to walk to, insufficient lighting and no shade.  More distant users were likely to be cyclists and more distant potential users were more likely to cite lack of parking and lack of toilets as reasons for not visiting.

The Trail Review indicated that in the Heidelberg Rd to Yarra River section of the trail 65% of users were cyclists and only 22% were walkers. However, the Yarra Open Space Strategy shows that for residents of Fitzroy North and Clifton Hill 73% used their local Merri Creek Reserve for walking and 43% for cycling.  This suggests that the Trail Review probably attracted a disproportionately high response rate from cyclists.

Key References

Context Pty Ltd and Diversity Coalition (1993).   Community Consultation Report, prepared for Melbourne Water and Merri Creek Management Committee, Melbourne.

Context Pty Ltd and Loder and Bayly (1993).   Recreation and Access Study, prepared for Melbourne Water and Merri Creek Management Committee, Melbourne.

Government of Victoria (2002) Melbourne 2030: Planning for sustainable growth

Jan Bruce and Associates Pty Ltd. (1993) Customer Research Report on Survey of Local Residents, Prepared for Melbourne Water and Merri Creek Management Committee, Melbourne.

Lacey, P. & Bruce, J. (1990) City of Northcote Recreation Needs Study and Strategy Plan Part A: Needs, February 1990.

Parks Victoria (2002) Linking People and Spaces: A Strategy for Melbournes Open Space Network.

Thompson Berrill Landscape Design Pty Ltd and Environment & Land Management Pty Ltd (2006) Yarra Open Space Strategy.

Thompson Berrill Landscape Design Pty Ltd (2007) Merri Creek Trail Review


1.   The natural setting, with trees, the Creek, wildlife, nature conservation areas and bushland is of primary importance for the communitys recreational enjoyment of Merri Creek.  Experience has shown that establishment of picnic shelters, barbeques, interpretive signage, etc in an otherwise undeveloped parkland is likely to lead to them being vandalised.  To reduce the wastage of resources is probably better to start with creating an attractive setting before these facilities are set up.

2.   On the other hand it is difficult to develop a sense of ownership of open space when the lack of facilities makes it difficult for the community to use the space, and the community has indicated that the provision of picnic areas and toilets are high priorities.

3.   Regional and district parks often include land in different ownerships, and need to be planned jointly.

4.   The surrounds of sports grounds could often be managed better to provide informal recreation opportunities.

5.   Different cultural groups can have different priorities in terms of informal recreation facilities, and site planning should take these into account.

6.   Established exotic trees contribute to community appreciation of the Creek.  However, sometimes these exotic species are serious environmental weeds, or their presence may be a barrier to creation of a habitat corridor along the Creek.  Creek rehabilitation may therefore require their removal.  The best way to achieve this is to plan removal with community consultation, undertake removal in stages, preceded where possible with the establishment of indigenous plantings in adjacent areas.

7.   In the more highly utilised sections of the parkland, conflicts between users are becoming more common. (See chapter 4.2 Trails and Access).

8.   Poor water quality, litter and rubbish detract significantly from users appreciation of the parkland.  See chapter 3.2 Water quality for discussion of these issues.

9.   Safety for users in some areas could be improved (See chapter 4.3 Public Safety).

10.  A lack of public land frontage on the west side of Merri Creek north of Campbellfield and on both sides north of Craigieburn Road East, and on many major tributaries restricts their use as linear parkland.

11.  Access for informal recreation is absent or very widely spaced for extended sections of the waterway parklands.

12.  Connectivity of waterway parklands is missing in critical areas e.g. parkland along Aitken and Malcolm Creeks does not link to parkland along the Merri.

13.  Proper understanding of community expectations requires up to date survey information. 

14.  Effective management of the linear parkland would be assisted by usage data collected regularly to create a picture of usage trends over time.

15.  Water quality in the catchment is often not sufficient to allow safe provision of water-based passive recreation activities such as boating and fishing.



1.   Provide a high quality network of parks and open space across urban and rural areas managed for community and environmental benefit (see RCS-LO5)

2.   Provide passive recreation, education and information facilities along Creek corridors.


1.   To design and manage the waterway parklands for the joint purposes of habitat management and recreation in a primarily natural setting.

2.   To design the parklands to provide for  continuous linked habitat corridors, continuous and linked trails and primarily passive recreational nodes at recognised district park locations.

3.   To enhance the creek-side parklands to provide continuous linear parkland along Merri Creek between the Yarra River and Craigieburn, and along major tributaries.

4.   To provide facilities which the community has indicated are high priorities, including picnic areas and toilets in a strategic way.

5.   To establish an attractive recreational setting suitable for informal recreation and generate a sense of local ownership before providing facilities like seats, barbeques, picnic shelters, toilets etc.

6.   To achieve a balance between facilities and opportunities for intensive recreation, and less intensive use and conservation areas.

7.   To increase appreciation of the creek environment by all communities through providing primarily passive recreation opportunities and programs compatible with the particular waterway setting, and through community engagement (see section 4.1 Community Involvement and Education).

8.   To manage use of the parkland to minimise conflicts and maximise park users enjoyment of the natural setting.

9.   To provide fair access to recreation opportunities in the waterway parklands for a spectrum of community needs - the aged, children, disabled, non-English speaking backgrounds or other user groups.

10.  To maintain an understanding of current use and future expectations of Merri Creek waterway corridors by the catchments communities.

11.  Continuous linear parkland along both sides of Merri Creek from the Yarra to Craigieburn East Road by 2020.


See Section E page 204

[255] E.g. The use of sporting fields within the parks of Northcote is at a much lower level than the other parkland areas (Lacey & Bruce 1990 p 42. 

[256] Thompson Berrill Landscape Design (2007)

[257] Thompson Berrill Landscape Design and Environment & Land Management  Pty Ltd (2006)