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Mountain bike riders set to blaze a trail through national parks

Rob's picture

By Rob - Posted on 10 September 2010

SYDNEY'S mountain bikers have always been hampered by one thing - a conspicuous lack of proper mountain trails.

Instead they have independently, usually illegally, carved their own tracks through national parks around the city fringes.

This could be about to change, with the state government to release a discussion paper today on ways of balancing the needs of the state's 30,000 dedicated mountain bike riders with those of people who go to national parks for the trees and wildlife, peace and quiet.

From SMH here (took up a good deal of page 3 in print):

Update: The Manly Daily's Take:

Update 17/9: The St George & Sutherland Shire Leader piece:

DECCW media release is here:

And the paper is supposed to be here from today (not up as of 07:00) here... discussion closes 18 October:

Update: Closing date for comments is now 25 October:

I cannot stress enough how important it is that everyone back this initiative! This means comment, comment, comment. Nothing is going to happen unless mountain bike riders show they have the numbers to justify proper facilities.

FWIW, I am meeting a NPWS Director Regional Manager (no longer acting director) this arvo for an informal chat that should now be pretty interesting Eye-wink

Logan's picture

This is something we all need to get behind 110% and make sure we make ourselves heard in a good way!

cranks's picture

I am 110% behind the call for all riders to get 110% behind this initiative: the more public submissions they receive from mountain bikers, the greater the chance we get an equitable deal for mountain bikers, walkers and all parks users.

The National Parks should be a resource enjoyed - sustainably - by all, not just ardent 'greenies'.

Logan's picture

Paper is up on the site now by the looks of things.

darkmuncan's picture
hairylittlehobbit's picture

So what do we need to do?

snowkiwi's picture

I received an email from about this today. The important bit is this:

The paper can be downloaded and submissions can be made online at

Submissions can also be emailed to

Submissions can be mailed to
Cycling Policy and Mountain Biking Strategy,
Department of Environment and Climate Change,
PO Box 1967,
Hurstville NSW 1481.

In addition, they will be conducting community meetings in late September and early October.

nrthrnben's picture

I will do all i can to promote this everywhere, if everyone does this, we will arrive at the desired result.

Remember, don't just think of your preferred discipline, rather think of the larger picture, and make sure all MTB Disciplines that can be built sustainably are catered for as it has been done everywhere else in Aus and the rest of the world.

It will be amazing to have a network of sustainable IBMA standard Cross country, All mountain and Downhill trails in our back yard!

Lach's picture

Mountain bikers will leave trail of destruction
Hot on the heels of its legislation which opens up NSW national parks to commercial tourist development, the government now wants to spend vast sums constructing playgrounds for adrenaline-charged thrillseekers in our precious natural areas (''Mountain bike riders set to blaze a trail through national parks'', September 10). Where will this frantic drive to open up our national parks to pressure groups end? Next it will be trail bikes and off-road vehicles - or even shooters.

Chris Southwood admits he has been using illegal trails for years, obviously unhampered by rangers. Are we really to believe that mountain bike riders will sedately cycle along these constructed paths, smelling the wildflowers and quietly enjoying the natural ambience? Of course not; they will continue to seek the steepest and most challenging downhill routes, and continue to do so unchallenged.

Pedestrians in cities are under siege from cyclists using footpaths illegally and running red lights. Now bushwalkers and other park visitors will never know when they are going to be knocked off their feet.

Never have more people visited our national parks. The National Parks and Wildlife Service estimates that 38 million people a year passively enjoy their peace and beauty. Opening up parks to damaging and dangerous activities such as mountain bike riding will destroy not only the plants, soil and rocks, but the park experience for the great majority of visitors.

Elizabeth Elenius, Chairwoman, Colong Foundation for Wilderness, Sydney

Lach's picture

Bikers cherish the bush too
Illegal mountain bike trails that are poorly built do damage, but trails built according to International Mountain Bike Association standards do not (''Mountain bike riders set to blaze a trail through national parks'', September 10). The scientific evidence shows mountain biking has a similar impact to walking and the key to sustainability lies in trail design rather than trail use.

Mountain bikers have been working with conservation groups for years to find common ground and to educate one another. This type of article with the headline about "blazing trails" does not help.

Conservationists are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of younger generations. Getting younger people involved in national parks is critical to winning their love for the environment. Only then will they be there to protect the bushland in the future. Mountain biking is a wonderful opportunity to secure them as champions of the environment when they grow older.

Campbell King Asquith

ps's picture

Will I get an email from the event promoters asking me to comment? Hasn't happened so far.

Seems a pretty simple way to ensure more people know about the need to comment. Anyone know how to encourage the race promoters to use their email lists for good cause?

Rob's picture

That comment from Elizabeth Elenius has to be an embarrassment to their members. Elizabeth doesn't appear to know what mountain bike riding is all about and doesn't appear to have asked anyone. Nor does she seem to understand that riders don't even want access to wilderness areas (given the name of her organisation I would assume these are their main concern) - they just want to have meaningful rides without having to drive (and isn't the car evil?) hundreds of kays to a decent track.

As Sally Barnes has pointed out, some national parks will never be useful for mountain bike riders, and most riders would be happy with that statement. What is required though, is fair and proper access to those parks close to urban populations such as Ku-ring-gai and Garigal in the North of Sydney. Again - these are not wilderness areas.

Worse still, is that in what reads like a knee jerk reaction to the SMH article (which at second reading does appear to have some purposefully confrontational language) Elizabeth feels the need to attack all bike riders. I'd imagine this would alienate a lot of people that would otherwise support the Colong Foundation. I'd imagine a lot of people who would sympathise with their cause would like to forsake the car for an alternate form of transport and isn't the bike ideal for that? While there are some idoits about (as there are in every activity - driving and bush walking included) branding all bikes as evil really is bad form, shame on you Elizabeth.

Flynny's picture

Rob applying rules of logic to the colong foundation is grasping at straws.

Make outrageously sensationalist claims firm first. seek facts... well I suppose they seek out facts a some point, but that doesn't usually distract them from the argument.'s picture

I think the comment "impact is a product of design rather than use" sums it up. I spent the weekend at the Central Coast and rode a section of the Great North Walk. Through one of the "hike a bike" sections near Patonga I couldn't believe how the walking trail was constructed. The track went straight up a 30% gradient for about 100m and from the erosion you could see it had just turned into a river after heavy rain.

With the huge scrutiny mountain biking has been subject to the product has been the writing of a bible of trail design, which is applicable to any track.
No one wants to build a single track competition course in pristing virgin wilderness. Near the major cities though the parks are typically very degraded environments, and mountain biking can have a positive impact. The last time I went to Menia I couldnt believe the amount of rubbish dumping going on around the trails, and theft of bushrock is a real issue also. With riders around it makes it harder for these illegal stuff.

But aside from that the article in the herald looks pretty much like its a case of "its way more interesting if you only tell half the story"..

Logan's picture

comment, that anyone off this site?

Brilliant comment on the Manly Daily:

Certainly not. We should ban every body from national parks.

No bush walkers No Bikes No Vehicles

I also want to ban aircraft from flying over them ans spy satellites from looking down on them.

I want to guarantee these parks are in perfect condition for when I am re-incarnated as a rabbit in 3000 years' time.

What a load of crap.

Rob's picture

Yeah - coming back as a rabbit... oh, the irony Eye-wink

Rob's picture

In response to Elizabeth Elenius, Sally Barnes (Head, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service) wrote:

Limited place for bikes in parks

Elizabeth Elenius (Letters, September 11-12) can be assured that sustainable mountain biking will occur only in a limited number of national parks, where it is appropriate. It will not be allowed in wilderness areas or nature reserves.

Interstate and international evidence, as well as our experience in NSW, shows that well-designed tracks that meet the needs of mountain bikers significantly reduce off-track riding and illegal track construction. Any new facilities will undergo extensive environmental assessment and be approved through park management plans - which would require more public consultation.

I am proud of our record in encouraging people of all ages and fitness levels to visit our parks. We will continue to do so without compromising our equally proud conservation record. It's only by getting people into our parks, in a healthy and sustainable way, that we can show them why they are so important.


Hop fiend's picture

I hope Sally walks the walk after talking the talk!!

Rob's picture

Ah... just noticed that Leader article has a poll... go vote if you have the time. 5 seconds at least is required Eye-wink

nrthrnben's picture

6 seconds tho Sad

Rob's picture

Come on guys... if you haven't commented yet, please do so on at least the first topic. Fill in the form bottom of this page with a few nice words:

Cheers! Smiling

Griff0's picture

Is anyone going to the public forum on riding in national parks for Northern Sydney next Thursday?

Turramurra: Thursday 7 October 6-8pm, Turramurra Bowling Club, 181 Bobbin Head Road Turramurra. Please RSVP to 13PARK (137275) or

Rob's picture

In the calendar: - Sydney North (Turramurra) - Springwood - Sutherland

If you are going please indicate on the meeting page Smiling

nrthrnben's picture

We all need to make a submission to the actual discussion paper along similar lines as IMBA's!

Commenting on "have your say" is great, but submissions usually have more power.

They need thousands in favor, cmon people lets do our part.

NSW Discussion Paper Notes
Submitted by Nick on Sat, 09/25/2010 - 21:47 General News

This is not my final submission but these are the points I have been considering. It may seem technical and wordy but some very smart NSW riders have helped me put this together and it is important for our responses to be well informed. After all we are going to have to live with the outcomes for a very long time.

You may like to use some or all of these points....

1) The mountain bike community commends the Dept on developing this discussion paper and the long overdue recognition of mountain biking as an acceptable recreation activity on the NPWS estate. It is well researched and entails an objective approach to accommodating mountain bike riding in the NSW parks system. The mountain bike community will certainly be assisting the dept in working towards implementing the ideas in this Discussion Paper. The MTB Community would like to see the key provisions of this Discussion Paper consolidated into a Trails Strategy that will guide future revisions of Park Plans of Management.

2) Statistics on page 2 maybe skewed as MTB riders are probably not filling out surveys. It could be much higher than 4% and it would be worthwhile installing trail user number counters in key areas and also on unauthorised trails to obtain more accurate user numbers.

3) Agreed that the numbers of riders is due to increase, particularly as women and families are becoming increasingly interested in riding trails in natural areas.

4) Agreed that recreation in natural setting is a key motivator for MTB riders, as well as the character of single track to allow riders to feel like they are part of nature.

5) The breakdown of MTB styles is reasonably accurate. However, downhill can be sustainable as it is trail based and we would like the Dept to reconsider where downhill riding would be accommodated. Sustainable DH trails are possible with good design, reasonable investment and rigorous maintenance. While it is recognised that the motivations for DH are not necessarily related to experiencing the natural environment, it is still part of MTB culture that needs to be effectively managed in public open spaces. Furthermore, it is foreseeable that “family”, beginner level downhills in ski resorts would be a key driver for summer visitation. DH can be accommodated in appropriate areas of lesser conservation value; specifically, parts of the NPWS estate such as Regional Parks, State Conservation Areas (former mining areas and are intended to be available for future mining) or within ski area lease areas. Furthermore, IMBA Australia is of the opinion that DH needs to be catered for to reduce illegal trail building. Trials riding on the other hand; is easy to cater for on man-made structures next to the car park and really poses no threat to natural assets. Ultimately IMBA is opposed to a blanket ban on any form of mountain biking as we would prefer a more proactive approach that would assess Parks and MTB opportunities on a case by case basis.

6) Riders would like to see greater co-operation between land managers of different tenure to provide more comprehensive trail networks as detailed in section 2.1 (page 9). IMBA Australia is of the understanding that, cross tenure planning only works if an independent agency such as Planning has the authority and leadership to pull all the agencies around the table so that the "need" and "limitations" are mapped out across all public lands, and then they negotiate on developing a regional MTB plan. Thus regional plans would need to be officially signed off and binding on all agencies. Hence the MTB Community would like to more detail of how cross tenure planning will be conducted by the NSW Government in regard to MTB management and provision.

7) IMBA Australia is of the opinion that riding in Wilderness areas is already permitted in certain parks on specific management tracks. Therefore we can only assume that the Proposed Policy Intent in section 2.4 on page 11 refers to “single” tracks rather than ruling out cycling in these areas all together. IMBA Australia is happy to support the management practice of not providing single track in Wilderness Areas and Nature Reserves. However, special consideration would need to be made in future if Parks with existing cycling areas are proposed to be gazetted as either Wilderness Reserves or Nature Reserves. Essentially, riding on some management trails in Wilderness as currently permitted and often allows for classic long/multi day MTB tours to take place that travel in and out of Wilderness and non Wilderness declared areas so MTB riders would like to see that future plans and strategies reflect MTB access to these areas as they currently stand. An example would be a ride from Kiandra to Guthega in Kosciuszko NP.

8.) IMBA Australia is in favour of purpose built MTB trails rather than the proposed policy of reworking old trails to provide cycling opportunities. Repairing trails on unsustainable gradients is very expensive and requires intense trail maintenance. The current limitation of only changing a trail's alignment within the existing corridor means trail construction cannot follow the best route through the terrain, nor allow for off-trail drainage and sediment controls. The existing trails were constructed by walkers following fall-lines and the shortest route, rather than the most sensible route. Thus, to implement the IMBA trail building guidelines in full, purpose built trails on new and better alignments to achieve the best outcomes for trail users and biodiversity. The ability to rehabilitate unsustainable trails is within the capacity of the Dept, volunteers and nature and hence this rehabilitation can be used to offset new trail developments that meet the guidelines of sustainable trails. Moreover, the ability of the Australia plant species to rehabilitate closed trails has been demonstrated in Mt Coot-tha (Brisbane), Ourimbah and Glenrock.

9) IMBA Australia agrees with the proposed process for amending and re-writing Park Plans of Management to permit cycling on single tracks/multi use trails in appropriate areas. (Section 2.3, page 10)

10) The potential impacts associated with MTB (page 12) are also created by walking trails and at this stage IMBA Australia believes it is important that it is recognised that walking experiences equally pose threats to biodiversity and need to be managed equally. For example, the dispersal of Phytophthora in the Stirling Ranges (WA) is completely attributed to hiking. In reference to human waste, due to the average speed of a touring cyclist, cyclists spend less time in the bush and can travel between stops more easily than walkers. Therefore walkers are more likely to impact natural areas in this way.

11) IMBA Australia is supportive of shared use on trails to reduce trail proliferation and ongoing maintenance costs but also to encourage greater understanding between trail users. Thus we commend the Dept on raising this issue in the discussion paper and working towards realistic solutions. Shared use on trails is accepted in every other country outside Australia. It is time this changed. Examples of shared use on single trail in Australia include the City of Mitcham (SA), Manly Dam, Royal NP and the Blue Mountains. Risks are managed in all other areas of day to day life and the MTB community believes that this achievable on the trails as well.

12) The proposed priority projects are supported by IMBA Australia. We would also like the Dept to consider more comprehensive opportunities in Perisher, Blue Mountains and the Southern Highlands. Trail networks should incorporate links to train stations to reduce congestion on the roads and in trail head car parks. (On a personal note I have always wanted to see Thredbo become true MTB Mecca with at least 6 DH Trails of varying abilities and some sweet XC trails. They kicked off some great MTB opportunities in the nineties and it is time the full potential of those hills are realised!).

13) It may be the case that the success of pilot projects at Glenrock, Royal and Yellowmundee are somewhat understated. More emphasis on this success and how it can be replicated in other areas is encouraged.

14) Section 3.5 highlights the need for further training of staff in MTB trail design and maintenance, but we would also like this training to be offered to volunteers. Furthermore, we encourage the Dept to work with both professional and affiliated (MTBA & IMBA Aust) volunteer trail building experts to find solutions to trail issues.

15) Trail “flow” on bike trails is a key ingredient to their success and ongoing sustainability. IMBA Australia feels that trail flow should be described in the glossary and section 4.2

16) As part of the recognition of cycling as a valid pursuit on trails in the NPWS estate, it would be hoped that NPWS will more commonly provide information on and highlight mountain biking tour routes through the parks publications, visitor centres and websites.

Any feedback for me? Let me know

Rob's picture

Yup, it's the last day for submission tomorrow!

FWIW, here's what I just emailed off, but you could just as easily comment on their forum:

Dear Sir/Madam,

Firstly, let me commend the department for trying to move forward and address the dire lack of facilities for off road cyclists in the National Parks for NSW.

I find the document to be well written and make some key acknowledgements but also to have some failings (some very significant) in other areas which I would like to see addressed:

- Park use statistics (page 2)

I find the way these statistics are presented as misleading. I don't think it is made clear enough that these are but extrapolations from a very small sample on park use. Then there is the key point there being these are usage figures, and not indicative in any way of the actual demand.

Myself and many other mountain bike riders would argue that there is massive demand for mountain bike facilities in National Parks, but as no real facilities exist in most parks, the actual usage figures (that are shown in Table 2) show cycling way down the list.

If one uses the logic that mountain bike usage figures are below demand due to lack of facilities, one could also agree that other usage is inflated proportional to the supply of facilities for those activities. By this I mean if there are many facilities for walkers and zero for mountain bike riders then visitors will end up walking in a park simply because they have no other choice.

To illustrate my point let us take the example of Ku-ring-gai National Park in Sydney's North. There are 121km of walking tracks listed on the department's park information page here:

From the same source there is one route described to be suitable for mountain bikes of around 20km:

The problem here being that the supposed mountain bike route isn't for mountain bikes at all - it is a road ride on a sealed surface. The fact that I as a local know there are a few very nice rides in this park is irrelevant here. Due to the information on the NPWS site any visitor without intimate knowledge of the area would assume there are no off-road rides and leave their mountain bikes at home and go for a walk instead.

I believe this leads to a massive divide between usage and demand and the paper should make this clear.

- Inaccurate current information (missing)

The above point clearly shows that NPWS information on park activities is woefully inadequate and should be updated immediately. Make use of the facilities that are actually there and that locals know about but others would not realise are available. This is an easy win for encouraging more visitation.

The discussion paper should include some details about an easy win like this but it does not.

- Mountain Biking Experiences (page 6)

The paper states, "A small number of world-class mountain bike experiences, some including sections of singletrack, should be provided either partially or wholly in NPWS parks over the next 5-10 years."

In order to be a 'world-class' mountain bike experience the vast majority of a cycling route would have to be singletrack. If it only included some sections, it clearly would not be 'world-class'. As some readers (and the author of that particular sentence) may not know what a 'world-class' mountain bike experience is it should be defined in this document.

The nearest local example I would cite would be Whakarewarewa Forest, Rotorua, New Zealand. This is a wonderful setting with over 100km of mountain bike trails, the vast majority being singletrack. If the department aims for anything less it would likely not be 'world-class'.

The time frame given here is also hopelessly flawed. In the worst case one could draw from this statement is that a partial experience could be provided in 10 years time.

Other sections of the document make clear statements as to the many benefits meaningful trails will bring, it would be almost criminal to not provide a means of realising these benefits as soon as possible.

- Nature Reserves and Wilderness Areas (page 11)

The paper states, "Cycling on management trails in nature reserves and wilderness areas is generally not allowed unless permitted under the plan of management."

While I would agree that such areas are likely not suitable for world-class singletrack networks they may still provide enjoyable riding on firetrails and management trails. Such trails, by their very nature, are designed for 4WD or heavy tanker traffic and as such riding a bicycle on these trails would have insignificant impact compared to those other vehicles.

Given the above argument, I would like to see this recommendation re-worded to allow cycling on any management or fire trail in any area under the department's management.

- Potential impacts of mountain biking (page 12)

The section on impacts of bike riding, while it may be correct, is written in a misleading way. The casual reader would assume that this activity is unique in the impacts listed.

However, even the most staunch bush-walker will accept that walking also causes impacts. In fact any activity in parks causes impacts. In case one needed any proof of this, reference press release 5 June 2009 which discusses a total of 2.8 million dollars spent on just two walking tracks in the Blue Mountains recently. What sort of activity is it that requires such a massive outlay on just two tracks?

In order to educate casual readers then, this section should clearly state that all parks users impact the environment and they key is to design, construct and maintain their facilities in a sustainable way to make that impact manageable.

It is also worth pointing out that instances of cyclist making overnight stays in parks is incredibly rare, much less than walkers for example. This should be clarified.

- Funding (page 26)

User pays funding schemes of any mountain bike tracks are likely doomed to fail. Not only will they likely cost more to implement and enforce than they collect, they would also alienate users as they are unfair. At least the section admits, "Resource requirements for mountain biking experiences should be viewed within the context of the annual NPWS spend of an estimated $70 million on visitor facilities and infrastructure, including more than 2000 walking tracks, 700 picnic sites, 420 lookouts and 450 campgrounds."

This is critical: how many visitors pay to use the walking tracks mentioned? If the answer is as close to zero as makes no difference (which I imagine it is) then clearly cyclists should not be penalised and asked to pay for any facilities they may receive. Especially since cyclist are more than willing to volunteer labour, design and other skills to providing a meaningful network.

- Priority Projects (page 28)

I have previously mentioned time frames but this is so important feel it needs to be re-stated: to publish an official paper with so many acknowledgements as this one makes, and with so many benefits that can be realised by policy changes as one does, but then not to immediately act on that is almost negligent. The department must make provision of meaningful experiences in those areas with most demand it's number one priority.

I am aware that Plan of Management documents (PoMs) for certain parks may require updates, and that many of these documents are also very old and already out of date (over 10 years old in the case of certain parks in Sydney North). It is not unreasonable to request that when the discussion paper be presented for sign-off by a minister amendments to certain PoMs also be presented for approval for public submission. If this were done, actions on the ground could be undertaken within but a few months of the paper being made official.

That concludes the points I wanted to make here. Again, I thank you for the oportunity to comment and hope these points can be incorporated accordingly.


Robin Rainton
Address given

nrthrnben's picture
The revised NPWS Cycling Policy has been finalised and is also with NPWS directors. The publication of this and the NPWS Sustainable Mountain Biking Strategy has been brought forward to August 16, when they will be officially announced by the Minister for Environment and Heritage.

stake holder groups will be invited by the Minister on 16 August, to inspect the suggested routes identified through preliminary investigations in to suitable sites for a mountain bike trial in the northern Sydney region.

Furthermore, it is a proposed recommendation in the Strategy, that mountain biking groups and other stake holders may be consulted on a variety of topics during the various stages of planning, design and maintenance of mountain biking experiences in NSW national parks.

nrthrnben's picture

Todays the release date Aug 16,

Was expecting some forum action Smiling

hawkeye's picture

There was a meeting this morning. Awaiting reports from those who attended.

hawkeye's picture

Take a look here:

nrthrnben's picture

well done to all!

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