The small town of Laurel Hill, nestled between Batlow and Tumbarumba in the alpine region of the Snowy Valleys, is reassessing its future following the loss of the Sugar Pine walk.
During the devastating Dunns Road bushfire of late 2019 and early 2020, the iconic tourist destination was completely destroyed and had to be cut down in June last year due to safety concerns.
The picturesque destination had become a huge drawcard for Riverina tourists wanting to see snow during the colder months, and had also gained popularity on social media as a unique photo location.
Brad Weintraub operates a blueberry farm in Laurel Hill and said that the town is rethinking what it can offer tourists until the next generation of Sugar Pine's finish growing - an effort that will take around 100 years.
"There's a lot of positive things happening in Laurel Hill," he said, with the town of 16 hoping to capitalise off of nature-based attractions.
"Hopefully we'll be this little primary industry community.
"There's myself - the blueberry farm - where people can come and pick their own blueberries."
Not far up the road lives Angela and Ehren Lyons and their three children, who are in the process of developing a productive flower farm and boutique accommodation venue.
Just before the Dunns Road fire, they had finished renovating a cabin on their 10-acre property to list on AirBnB. The cabin was hosting its first and only visitors when the bushfire reached Laurel Hill.
"They basically stayed for a night and a half, and on the second night they were evacuated," Mrs Lyons said.
"Then it burnt to the ground, completely burnt to the ground."
The Lyons' family home was slightly impacted, but structurally, was spared by the blaze.
It was while renovating their home last year that the idea for a flower farm was first sparked by Mrs Lyons and a friend. The concept has now progressed from an idea to something concrete, with Mrs Lyons leaving her full-time job as a travel agent in Wagga to focus on developing the farm with her family.
"The way I'm planning is that it's also a garden, it's not just a farm; not purely rows and beds and stuff," she said.
"We're trying to create a space that we will be able to open up."
The family are planning to host events, possibly operate a farm gate and turn one of their vans into a coffee and wine bar, working with the regions distinct four seasons to get the most out of their property.
Mrs Lyons has also suggested that a seasonal market be started at Lochinvar Park nearby with "flowers and fruit and truffle", because so many of the town's residents are producers.
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Looking to the future, she imagines Laurel Hill becoming its own little hub that will continue to develop and evolve over time.
"It's like this little place in the middle of nowhere that makes you feel good," she said of the small town that has been a part of her life for over a decade.
"You just open the car door and it's got a different smell and the air feels clean."
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