tracks in declared wilderness

Martin Geliot's picture

By Martin Geliot - Posted on 17 August 2013

NB: Originally posted elsewhere on the Global Riders Network and appears via syndication.

If possible I would like advocates and riders to avoid engaging with NPWS concerning riding on tracks in wilderness.

My reasoning is that in the Wilderness Act, provision was made to include "self-reliant" recreation as an objective of declared wilderness. When this was done, the intention was to exclude 4WDs, motorcycles & horses. Canoeing and cycling were not meant to be shut out, in recognition of low impact and compatibility with wilderness values.

In recent years some NPWS offices are applying their own interpretation beyond the original intent of the Act: ie. that cycling isn't "self-reliant". Hence discussion with them about cycling inevitably produces a negative result, and at the same time gets cyclist's occasional use of the track on their radar.

If the track is closed, by way of signage or otherwise promulgated as closed or to be revegetated then obviously it is not to be ridden.

If a track is a maintained management track, and cited in their plan of management, then is is likely to be explicitly open.

Other tracks are supposedly unmaintained, but get slashing or other maintenance from time to time, typically in support of firefighting activity. These, normally shown on topographic maps, often offer excellent singletrack.

In the mountains we are experiencing a lot of problematic track management practices from NPWS. They aren't following a gold standard by any means. I have no idea how to persuade parks and other agencies managing land jointly with them to do the work correctly and as sustainably as possible. I believe that this subject is a much better one for engagement with them.

hawkeye's picture

What evidence do you have that "Canoeing and cycling were not meant to be shut out, in recognition of low impact and compatibility with wilderness values"

hawkeye's picture

What evidence do you have that "Canoeing and cycling were not meant to be shut out, in recognition of low impact and compatibility with wilderness values"

Flynny's picture

That's how it was explained in the consultative progress hawkeye.

Martin Geliot's picture

I'm pleased that you asked Hawkeye

My request is based upon what I knew of the Act when it was introduced way back in 1987, and the application of it since then. Until recent years discussion with land managers generally assumed that cycling was appropriate & self reliant. The popularity of cycling has seen a minor shift there, for reasons we understand well of course.

Unusually in this case 'evidence' probably isn't terribly helpful.

Section 9 of the Act is intended to govern management principles, it's not law that says in itself in black and white that a cyclist or canoeist has access or not. Rather it is meant to guide management of wilderness and to ensure that access for self reliant recreation is included in that management. It insists upon permitting solitude & appropriate self-reliant recreation.

AFAIK the Act doesn't even seek to define 'self-reliant' at all, that is left to interpretation.
Hence the opportunity for abusing section 9 by NPWS by way of restriction, while Section 9 clearly seeks to PERMIT.

I don't think we could usefully build evidence, and then have a legal fight with NPWS over it.

What is useful though is to remember that this Act does exist, and that NPWS are supposed to follow it. We can use that knowledge as guidance for ourselves, and at least recognise when the Act is being ignored by the authorities and make our choices accordingly with that wisdom in our heads. The good kind of discrimination.

It is also worth noting that frequently NSW Govt land managers ignore or frustrate mandated consultation processes by either not engaging in consultation at all, or by drafting regulation and implementing it while carrying out a box ticking review after the fact. The review of course doesn't cause any change to the regulation at all, the process is entirely fake.

My experience in dealing with this up to Ministerial and even Premier level is that they simply won't correct these regulations regardless of misgovernment intentionally carried out and procedural 'errors'.

Hence it is best not to engage them on the subject. And really there is little need, if we do the right thing by way of respecting wilderness also the principles of this Section as written all will be good. Very small groups, low impact, keeping seeds out, removing waste/weeds etcetera.

The reciprocal of all this is that NPWS are reliant on ourselves acting responsibly.

Furthermore, it is useful to understand that a land manager often thinks that when access is allowed, there is an obligation to do stuff. Which costs them money of course. Few understand that cyclists actually seek to visit remote areas and are there as visitors expecting the place to be as it is naturally.

Rather, managers have in mind thrillseekers hoping for a bit of DH or formed track, or tyros expecting a well groomed trail. For the remote experience obviously we don't want to modify the area and we do want it evolving without significant human interference.

I think it is useful to have this perspective in mind before deciding whether to engage with them about access in wilderness. Most especially concerning antiquated tracks which rangers and their managers are mostly unaware of.

Naturally, I am aware that IMBA guidelines include asking land managers about access in advance. Ordinarily that's a principle to follow carefully of course especially where visitation rates and impact are likely to be high. However complexities exist in this case demanding a more informed and careful approach in my view.


9 Management principles for wilderness areas

A wilderness area shall be managed so as:

(a) to restore (if applicable) and to protect the unmodified state of the area and its plant and animal communities,
(b) to preserve the capacity of the area to evolve in the absence of significant human interference, and
(c) to permit opportunities for solitude and appropriate self-reliant recreation (whether of a commercial nature or not).

moggio's picture

Interesting stuff Martin!

In my head there was a reference somewhere that in a NP that unless it is signposted otherwise it is illegal to ride a single track. Obviously this gets grey in that a nice big management track slowly becomes single track before it grows over.

However have you seen this reference or come across this thinking with NPWS?

Martin Geliot's picture

I have never seen such a restriction in writing.

Plans of Management often list tracks where cycling is permitted, occasionally ones where it is prohibited.
But of course not all tracks appear in PoMs.

At times parks have stretched terminology a bit in order to invent a difference between "tracks" and "trails", and then perhaps said cycling is permitted on one but not the other. If you find such a thing we can have a good look and see if we can figure them out. If there's nothing better to do!

Sometimes they are differentiating between walking tracks and vehicular tracks, and ordinarily we aren't supposed to be cycling on something signed for walkers exclusively. Of course that does NOT include something constructed for vehicles which has become somewhat overgrown.

That said, in areas with low visitation rates the chances of upsetting a ranger by riding on a singletrack are, well, remote. I wouldn't worry about it. Being respectful to walkers IS essential, as we know.

hawkeye's picture

@flynny: by whom? Just interested to know. It could be useful information to have in reserve in future negotiations.

@martin: I don't think you need have too much concern in the immediate future as our primary concern at this time is to alleviate usage concentration pressures on existing trails close to and within major riding population centres such as Sydney. Self reliant wilderness touring is not on our radar.

Flynny's picture

"In my head there was a reference somewhere that in a NP that unless it is signposted otherwise it is illegal to ride a single track"

The old policy was "cycling is only permitted on roadways and management track unless stated otherwise in the PoM"

the new policy states

"4. Cycling is not permitted on single track ‘walking’ tracks unless a sign
indicates otherwise. These are generally narrow
tracks used principally by walkers and are not suitable for, or maintained for, the purpose of cycling.

In specific circumstances, for example where a ‘walking’ track has suitable
visibility, width, surface condition and gradient, and where there are not likely
to be conflicts with other track users, cyclists may be permitted to use the
track. Any such arrangements will be at the discretion of the Regional
Manager and will be indicated by signage at the head of tracks.

5. Cyclists are permitted to push or carry bicycles on tracks or trails where cycling is not permitted.

6. In all cases, cycling will not be permitted off the road
or track surface."

as for wilderness it states

Wilderness areas
7. Cycling within declared wilderness areas is generally not allowed but may be
permitted on specified management (vehicle) trails only. The use of a trail
for cycling within a wilderness area must be consistent with any plan of
management, or if there is no plan of management, must be approved by
the Regional Manager where such use will not degrade wilderness values or
threaten the ability of the NPWS to meet its obligations under the
Wilderness Act 1987
8. Management trails available for cycling will be identified by appropriate
signage or other information at trail heads outside wilderness areas for the
benefit of cyclists and other park users. No other facilities, developments or
improvements will be provided to accommodate bicycle access and use
within wilderness areas

Martin Geliot's picture

That new policy certainly does attempt to tighten it up.

I'll reflect on it for a bit, since although it reconfirms my OP asking that we ought not bother seeking permission it seems a bit more restrictive than the Act requires.

It's a good thing at least that this is policy, not regulation. Also good that the signage at trail heads isn't there, at least not in my neck of the woods.

4. seems fine by me, it applies to walking tracks not overgrown firetrails. Hurrah for the lack of a definition.
5. is good news, in effect saying we can still be where we like with our bikes so long as we do portage. I hope that can be applied to schedule 2 catchment too, but I bet it isn't.
6. is a no-brainer
7. is in my view in conflict with the Act, thankfully though since this is policy not a regulation it is only meant to guide PoM development, regional manager decisions and perhaps the development of actual regulation
8. facilities, developments and improvements don't make sense in wilderness anyway, so that's fine. And they don't seem to be putting up the signage, which is a good thing too.

I'll consider 7 further, and especially precedence... although my original "don't seek permission" ask still seems even more appropriate. Not that I intend to worry about it!

And I still want a bit of pressure on them about their dodgy management practices, I don't think they can preach to us until their own house is in order.

Flynny's picture

There are a couple of maintenance trails I have asked about in the past and both times have been given permission.

1 the area manager started a bit reluctant before coming around and saying he'd prefer a call before each ride so he has an idea of who is out there in case of emergency(probably a good thing for walkers too but surely would tie up valuable time)

and the other the regional manager said of course it was Ok to ride, when I asked about the "walkers only beyond this point" sign he said something along the lines of, Yeah its a bit miss leading but we haven't the time, money or inclination to update signs just now.

Martin Geliot's picture

I assume that being maintained management trails, they'll be set up for carrying motor vehicles.

Good to have permission to use those, it would be an anomaly if that were refused (Snowy Mountains anyone?)

So here we have a useful discriminator to guide our own 'policy'.

I propose:
* If it is a maintained management trail, we ask.
* If wild, and not able to carry motor vehicles, we don't.

I have to chuckle about the second response, that's about it! Someone pragmatic, yay!

The Brown Hornet's picture

* If it is a maintained management trail, we ask.
* If wild, and not able to carry motor vehicles, we don't.


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