Manly Dam Works Feedback

Rob's picture

By Rob - Posted on 14 September 2009

Poor Steps

Do you ride regularly at Manly Dam? How have the recent works affected your enjoyment of riding there? Do you have suggestions for improvements or other ideas?

It has been brought to my attention that anyone wishing to give feedback to Warringah Council on their recent works at Manly Dam can do so by writing to their general manager, Rik Hart, at the following email address:

As this is a general email address I assume a subject of something like, "FAO Rik Hart re: Manly Dam Works" is required.

I would encourage anyone to report back to the council with their views on what has been happening at the Dam. It's very important we let the council know how their plans and works are received. If we don't let the powers that be know our views there will be no-one to blame but ourselves if things do not go quiet as riders would like in the future.

Please remember to be courteous and constructive and if you see any problems or issues perhaps suggest how they might be remedied.

In the interests of keeping a log of various feedback feel free to CC with anything you send in.

cambowambo's picture

Dear Mr Hart,

I ride around the Manly Dam mountain bike loop a minimum of 6 times a week. I have been riding this loop for 10 years. I ride on my own at odd times during the week and at 8:30 every Saturday and 6:30 every Sunday with different groups of friends.

The Manly Dam mountain bike track is important to me. I care what happens to it.

I am concerned that Warringah Council does not understand the value of this resource and that its management plan (if there is one) specifically ignores mountain biking - even though it is the primary activity.

The Current Problem: Warringah Council's recent maintenance of the track

Nobody is opposed to track maintenance, in fact mountain bike riders would like to be involved as volunteer labour and do more and more regular track maintenance so that the track is rideable in all weathers - but the Rangers currently won't allow it.

My two problems are that the recent Council maintenance is turning the track into a danger zone for riders and pedestrians; and at the same time the track is being smoothed, flattened, widened and straightened making it uninteresting to ride.

Obviously there were no riders involved with designing these works because now there are obstacles (ditches, rock structures, timber steps and waterbars) in exactly the places which could be dangerous to riders, and the overall flow of the track is being rebuilt backwards - the new track flows down to Seaforth Public School (which is the ride "up" side) and flows up at Allambie (which is the "down" side).

The fun ride down behind Allambie is no longer! One section here now has diagonal timber "waterbars" across it every few metres and a drainage ditch which collects water on one side, and then drains it down *and back onto the track* crossing it over to the other side. Obviously nobody with any hydrological skills was involved with that design! Riders are being haptically led by the track off into the Dam now, following the wide drainage ditch going straight ahead, rather than the track which (now) turns left.

And the previous part there - from Monserra to Nyrang Streets - which was technically a little challenging with some nice interesting turns and bumps has now become a straight and smooth path. This inevitably results in bikes riding faster (what else to do on a straight smooth path?) at exactly the location where Allambie family dog walkers are common, so no doubt there will be future confrontations and maybe even accidents.

The short track up past Manning Street/Seaforth School was an interestingly winding climb but is now just a straight line which at the end leads riders into a new wire fence at Clontarf Street.

The only good thing about most of these works is that they don't properly address the problem of erosion (ie they don't stop water running down the tracks, they don't slow the water down, they don't remove the water from the tracks, and they use soils which retain water) so it will certainly be necessary to do them over again in the future - hopefully we can do a better job next time.

The Future Problem: Warringah Council's future maintenance of the track

The very friendly guys doing the maintenance work at Allambie told me some weeks ago they'd spoken to some bloke, who claimed to be a consultant advising Warringah Council, who told them that the Dam track is still too hard and too rough for children and old people. Obviously this consultant has no idea about mountain biking - how did he get the job?

Proposed Solution:

Firstly, Warringah Council needs to satisfy itself and acknowledge that mountain bikes are the primary user group of the Manly Dam track.

Then, any future proposals for future track works - especially track building or maintenance - should necessarily involve consultation with mountain bike users (and I suggest NoBMoB would be a good representative user group) at the earliest possible stage.

Finally, I recommend this future consultation should cover ways and means to make the Manly Dam mountain bike tracks (1) sustainable (2) interesting to ride and (3) suitable for all weather riding and (4) include the riders in regular scheduled maintenance of the tracks.

I would be happy to help you further with this.


Whisperer's picture

Well thought out and objective viewpoints.
I hadn't taken such a close look at the elements you have pointed out so well.
After a few laps yesterday, I did notice that the track has has sections opened up as you have pointed out; and in other places some real danger added where they have attempted, it seems, to slow riders down. The descent from the new section behind Alambie is without doubt going to cause crashes over those log water bars, and the rough section down to the lab will catch many people out since constructing the steps and removing alternate lines. It is showing that despite the good intent, a lack of understanding or consultation by the council.
As you have intimated, there is a wealth of sustainable trail building knowledge available to draw upon by the council, and many fine examples to use as inspiration. A field trip to Mt Stromlo forest park by the council would be valuable, and we could offer to assist in setting up meetings with appropriate stakeholders.
I guess I should write my own letter... Smiling

cambowambo's picture
and the rough section down to the lab will catch many people out since constructing the steps and removing alternate lines. It is showing that despite the good intent, a lack of understanding or consultation by the council.

Every time I ride down that section, I see those steps (are they meant to be steps for people to walk up?) and their sharp wooden corners and wonder "what the f### were they thinking?" Why on earth would they do that?

Flynny's picture

looks like some one needs to get council to get a proper consultant who knows what they are talking about invovled

Jeff at Traxntrailz or the guys at World_Trail would be well worth contacting

nrthrnben's picture

Just received my response,look familiar?
It seems, he has just sent a generic response out to everyone.
The guy seems nice enough but clearly out of touch with the main park users.

So bikers are not allowed on walking tracks but walkers are allowed on known biking tracks,what a joke.
It also states we should slow down or dismount when encountering "challenging" conditions,what about "dangerous" and "stupid" conditions?

I will resend a further email,

Thank you for your email of 17 September 2009 regarding mountain biking at Manly Dam. Your comments have been noted and your observations on design and maintenance matters are appreciated.

Council has not provided a purpose-built mountain bike track at Manly Dam. A bike access route was made available on a trial basis as a management response to minimise uncontrolled bike access to the Park’s internal walking track network. This gave cyclists access around the Park away from the more sensitive walking track network. The bike trail was never built to satisfy the demands of technically proficient riders, and was certainly never meant to attract increased mountain bike activity within Manly Dam.

This trail remains a multi-use facility (walkers, joggers, cyclists etc) and needs to accommodate the least technically proficient bike riders. Park Management also actively discourages mountain bike competitions and high speed racing. This approach compliments the Park’s over arching ethic of passive recreation and bushland conservation.

The bike trail works completed to date are to standards acceptable to both the NSW Department of Lands and Council’s consultants. Council and the Manly Dam Management advises bikers to ride according to track and weather conditions. This means slowing down or at times dismounting the bike when encountering challenging conditions. The Manly Dam Biking Code of Conduct covers these and related issues.

Council is aware that this approach may not satisfy riders wanting high levels of challenge and uninterrupted speed opportunities. Your comments to certain aspects of track surface treatment etc will be considered where they may assist to improve and fine tune the existing bike trail. Thank you again for your input.

Should you have any further enquiries please contact Council’s Co-ordinator Manly Warringah War Memorial Park, Mr Chris Buckley on 9949 3235.

Yours faithfully

C M Buckley
Manly Warringah War Memorial Park

fer's picture

I come from a country where "managers" only care about themselves while publicly saying what the people want to hear, and the story of Manly Dam Bike Trak sounds a bit like that. I think they know what they are doing, and they are saying it in the answer they sent you:

"Council has not provided a purpose-built mountain bike track at Manly Dam...The bike trail was never built to satisfy the demands of technically proficient riders, and was certainly never meant to attract increased mountain bike activity within Manly Dam."

This trail remains a multi-use facility (walkers, joggers, cyclists etc) ...This approach compliments ... ethic of passive recreation and bushland conservation."

Basically that tells me that their agenda is not to acomodate MTB but walkers and "pasive recreation".

Also, in the ground I have seen during the last 3 years i rode the dam, the changes that made, a once wonderfull circuit, into a low grade, pretty boring one, and even dangerous (I had 3 flat tires against the logs you mention). Sad

In any case, personally i don't know how effective (or inefective) an eamil to these guys will be, but i will try to write one.

snowkiwi's picture

So they specifically state "The bike trail was never built to satisfy the demands of technically proficient riders" and yet most of their recent changes have made it more awkard to ride (e.g. water bars radiating out on the corners) and therefore more technical. Well some of them were, while others weren't

Seems like they're neither listening to themselves or being consistent.

hawkeye's picture

... but here is my feedback. Sorry for the novel...

Dear Mr Hart,
I would like to provide feedback on the recent maintenance works at Manly Dam, and on the following statements made in a recent email response from Mr Chris Buckley, Coordinator, Manly-Warringah War Memorial Park, to friend who has written on the above matter:

“The bike trail was never built to satisfy the demands of technically proficient riders, and was certainly never meant to attract increased mountain bike activity within Manly Dam.
This trail remains a multi-use facility (walkers, joggers, cyclists etc) and needs to accommodate the least technically proficient bike riders. Park Management also actively discourages mountain bike competitions and high speed racing. “

This comment raises a number of issues that must be addressed.

Inconsistency With Council’s Own Public Documents and Policy
There are elements of the above statement that seem to be directly at odds with policy evident in publicly available documents published by Council, and the current Draft Recreation Plan, for which input is currently invited.

I would draw your attention to the fact that the trail is widely known to the public - and is referred to in Council’s own Draft Recreation Plan - as the “Mountain Bike Trail”. This indicates an acceptance by the public at large and by the Council itself that the primary user population consists of mountain bikers. Council’s publications promote the availability of the trail for mountain bike use and thereby contradict the statement “was certainly never meant to attract increased mountain bike activity within Manly Dam”. With the marked increase in pent up demand from the growing popularity of the activity, it should be no surprise that use of the trail by mountain bike riders has increased significantly, and the increased popularity of the facility has brought increased management workload.

If Mr Buckley’s statements are correct, I respectfully suggest Council’s policy and practice need to adapt to the changed reality. Acknowledging and accommodating mountain bikers as the primary (but not exclusive) user group for this trail will place Council to better meets its charter with regard to promoting increases in exercise rates and improving the health of its community through promoting an increasingly popular and intensely physical activity. It will also provide the foundation for Council to manage the trail in ways that are effective, in contrast with present rangers practice which has demonstrable problems. It will also mark a return to precedent.

If Mr Buckley’s statements are incorrect, then he needs to be educated and counselled.

I suspect the latter is the case: the report Warringah Regional Multiple-Use Trails Strategy (downloaded from at 6:51pm 16 October 2009) page four contains the following acknowledgement:
Don’t sanitise all the trails; need to keep some challenges – use code of conduct to promote individual responsibility
A section of the Manly Dam trails was removed from the Strategy in recognition that it is a key part of the existing mountain bike trail and is not essential for multi-use as proposed in the draft Strategy. See Map 2 . In addition a standard design feature that can be used is the provision of (short) alternative trails around obstacles to provide riders with a choice of challenge.”

I note the above was the subject of no less than 24 submissions made in relation to the Strategy. Council has been clearly informed on this matter.

Failure to Accommodate User Needs Equitably
I appreciate the need to accommodate walkers on this trail, but unfortunately it seems recently that this has been at the marked expense of mountain bikers. Given the abundant availability of alternatives for walkers in the park, the promotion of their requirements to the manifest disadvantage of mountain bikers is clearly inappropriate.

The statement “...and needs to accommodate the least technically proficient bike riders” is on the surface fair and reasonable. However, the fact that the recent maintenance works fail to accommodate more proficient riders demonstrates either a lack of imagination or a lack of knowledge of the “standard design feature” recorded in the above document.

A visit to some of the dedicated cross-country mountain bike trails run by clubs will show how far ahead of Council’s own engineers and consultants they are in accommodating a variety of skill levels. For example, at the Ourimbah mountain bike park about an hour’s drive north from Sydney, and at Stromlo Forest Park at the recent Scott 24 Hour event in the ACT, there are a number of technical and steep drops. In each case, there are clearly sign-marked “A” and “B” trail options, with the “B” option providing the easier but slightly longer route around the obstacle in a manner that imposes minimal environmental footprint.

Adopting this approach would achieve the desired outcomes for all levels of trail users, accommodating walkers’ needs as well with a little thought. It would also reduce greatly the temptation to engage in unauthorised trail widening around the more challenging obstacles that is seen in numerous locations around the Memorial Park. As noted, this is not a suggestion that is new to Council. Unfortunately, it appears not to have made it into the rangers’ or consultants’ mindset.

Contrast the well informed approach to the recent erosion mitigation works running parallel to Southern Cross Drive Allambie. Here we see a long, straight, downhill section where the trail was made easier and very much faster than was necessary. It rewards riders travelling at high speeds: they can simply “bunny hop” or wheelie (“manual”) straight over the culverts and waterbars. The faster you go the easier this is. Speeds of 30 km/hr and upwards are readily achieved. This is in direct contradiction of the statement above: “Park Management also actively discourages ... high speed racing.” The irony of the situation should be obvious. The strategy and thinking that led to it must be challenged.

Further, Mr Buckley’s statement is in conflict with the rating provided on Council’s own trail map ( downloaded at 7:12pm 16 October 2009) where the following is noted at the bottom: “Technical Ability: High to Medium”

Mr Buckley’s response ignores the simplest option of all: if you can’t see how to ride the obstacle with confidence, get off and walk.

This simply fundamental to taking responsibility for one’s own wellbeing when out on the trail. It is not hard to understand.

When starting out as a mountain biker I used to walk most of the more challenging sections of the trail. I took these sections as a challenge and measuring stick against which to mark the improvement of my skills. There are still times when I take the walking option.

In the strongest possible terms I am against the proposition that we should dumb down the track so that everybody regardless of skill levels can ride it without having to walk sections. We already have an abundance of those sorts of trails – Narrabeen Lake loop is one. Others go by the common name of “bike paths” and Council already has a strategy in place for providing more of them. Suburban streets are yet another. We neither need nor want Manly Dam to become another “bike path” and to thereby lose its uniqueness. In fact we need more trails like the way Manly Dam used to be.

Significant Deterioration in Community Consultation
Consultation with local mountain bikers and the engagement of their professional expertise in a volunteer capacity would have avoided the predictable and perverse outcome of the Southern Cross Drive erosion works. Unfortunately the present approach seems to be shutting out mountain bikers from the consultation process. Based on the available evidence, which includes:
• The above erosion mitigation works;
• Sharp-cornered steps near Wandella Rd, next to the last rocky trail descent before arriving at the Hydraulics Lab. These present a significant worsening of the injury risk to cyclists by being much too close to the line that riders take through the step-downs; and
• Log steps adjacent to Roosevelt Av and Churchill Cr, which are spaced very awkwardly for cyclists. They also radiate from the corner apex at difficult angles. These present a major fall risk, which significantly worsens in dew conditions in the early morning;
it is evident that consultants advising Council on trail maintenance have little understanding of either mountain bike dynamics or rider behaviour.

Our more senior mountain bike user population includes professionals with research, planning, assessment, construction and trail building expertise, and we have access to groups like World Trail and the International Mountain Biking Association for sustainable trail construction standards and knowledge. It does not make sense to me that Council would deliberately seek to cut itself off from this knowledge base and alienate it, yet this is what seems to be going about doing.

In addition to the failure to make the consultant’s report available for public comment, recent email from rangers to the mtbtrailinfo mailing list berated mountain bike users for continuing to use the trail when closed due to wet weather. The problem with this is twofold:
• the relevant council web page declared the trail was still open at that time
• those who have requested to be on the mailing list have a desire to be advised when not to ride the trail. They are therefore the ones least likely to disregard a trail closure notice, and know not to ride the trail when waterlogged.

A number of fellow trail users found the attitude quite offensive and condescending. I shared the writer’s frustration, but felt it showed a significant lack of thought about the intended audience and I assumed was written by a junior staffer. Most recently, the trail has been closed and no email notification was sent at all, because of staff absences. It seems to me there is a key person risk within the department that needs addressing.

There is certainly a communication problem.

Other matters that need to be raised:
• Discouraging use of trails when wet can be problematic, as many users find these conditions “fun”. Rangers don’t seem to “get” this.
• Beginners (and I was one) don’t usually appreciate the damage that riding in muddy conditions can do. This is an education issue.
• A significant number of trail users travel up to several hours in the expectation of being able to ride at Manly Dam. Expecting them to go home without doing at least some riding takes no account of human nature. Expectations must therefore be managed better through effective publicity of trail status and condition to minimise the frequency of this occurring. It should be noted that 100% compliance is probably unachievable.
• As an aside, the above three points perhaps put the onus on Council to be pragmatic and re-route the trails, and design them so they are more tolerant of adverse weather.
• Offers to rangers of assistance with the appropriate wording for education signage for the park to address education issues in an effective way that establishes rapport with users have been ignored.
• Volunteer trail maintenance days are no longer held. This used to be an excellent way for mountain bikers and Council staff to meet and understand the others’ needs, and for mountain bikers to have some input into what was being done on the trail while contributing something back to Council. This channel needs to be reopened and maintained as a matter of urgency.

I apologise for the length of this email. As you can see the issues are many and complex, and stakeholder frustration levels with the current approach are rising.

I look forward to your response in due course.


name and address supplied

fer's picture

Very nice answer, I read it until the end but if they like the recruiting agencies they will put it aside without even finishing the first paragraph. Smiling
In any case lets hope this helps the issue in some way...

hawkeye's picture

Probably right...

but if we continue to write to them, what will happen is a content analysis of all the correspondence - in which case the letter will count for multiple hits, one for each issue raised.

But you're right, it would have been better if it was short and punchy.

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