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Quarry Road Track Closure due to Rifle Range “Danger”


Tristania's picture

By Tristania - Posted on 10 May 2017

We’re paging mountain bikers, walkers and joggers from Hornsby and beyond to help us in our charge to find a more workable solution than the present Trump-like “answer” of gates, walls and fences to lock everyone out of the extremely popular Quarry Road Track from Hornsby to Dural. The transcript of the letter/report that I have personally sent is shown below for reference; it’s rather long but the Abstract is a pretty good summary of the situation for those who have been out of the loop.

Please send a letter highlighting your frustration to Hornsby’s MP Matt Kean
Suite 5, The Madison, 25-29 Hunter Street, Hornsby NSW 2077; hornsby@parliament.nsw.gov.au

And the NPWS Office
PO Box A290, Sydney South, NSW 1232; info@environment.nsw.gov.au
******************************************************************************************

ABSTRACT: In July 2014, the popular 7km Quarry Road fire trail[1], that linked Dural to Hornsby via Berowra Valley, including a section of the Great North Walk, had new signs erected informing users that access was prohibited unless authorised. After much confusion with what this meant, it was subsequently clarified that authorisation was given when shooting was not occurring, generally outside of 9am and 4:30pm on weekdays, with very little further discussion.

In December 2016, four massive gates, including wire around them, were installed at these four sections of track, with no further explanation why, though further investigation indicated that this is to keep people out at all times, using the buzzword “Safety” as the justification. Of course, no single group will take responsibility for this – on the one hand, spokespeople for the rifle range says that it was NPWS who instructed them to put the gates in; on the other, NPWS signage denies that they have anything to do with it, and the response we hear to questions is that walkers should have never been there in the first place, despite having all the tracks previously advertised NPWS. The net result is an object lesson in how not to handle a Public Relations issue.

As a cyclist, runner and walker who has trained on and enjoyed this track for years, I am extremely disappointed that use of this track is now apparently illegal and join hundreds of others that can’t help but ask, “Why has it all come to this?”
Menacing Gates

To Whom It May Concern,

Re: Gates protecting public from rifle range risk taken down (Hornsby Advocate, April 6)

I write this in disillusionment and frustration as a response to Nigel Gladstone’s article in the Hornsby Advocate regarding the Quarry Road Track (QRT) gates[2]. It is a gross misrepresentation of the facts and fails to account for many critical factors to explain the situation and highlight the factors that have led to the described circumstances. I have done extensive research with all the publicly available facts in the hope that the as much of the full story as possible can be understood.

1. The track is unique and has been a staple to thousands of walkers, cyclists and runners for decades.
Gladstone’s article identifies that “about 200 people use [the Rifle Range] weekly including NSW Police, RSPCA and National Parks staff[2],” without accounting for the comparable number who have used the QRT.

The number of cars parked at the end of Stewart Avenue, Hornsby and Quarry Road, Dural on a Saturday or Sunday morning is massive, and added to those who walked/ran/cycled to the track head, turn the fire trail into highway at these times. Adding the early weekday morning users to the weekly count, the number of people on it must be at least 200; probably more. According to Campbell King, president of Sydney North Off Road Cyclists (SNORC), “This has been the single most important multiuser trail in the Hornsby Shire for decades. It is an essential part of many runners’, walkers’, and cyclists’ weekly routine and healthy lifestyle[3].”

The steep descent from both sides into Berowra Valley and over the bridge is legendary and unique, and this has attracted hundreds of mountain bikers to it to practice hill climbing and build fitness. It has also been an iconic route for running clubs as they prepare for the 6-Foot Track and Ultra Trail Australia marathons.

This closure also wipes out a major part of the Great North Walk between Fishponds and the Steele Bridge, which carries its fair share of traffic, which has resulted in the official GNW route being redirected to the much less spectacular Manor Rd, Hornsby. This section of the Benowie Track has been popular with day trippers and one of the most popular sections of track for teenagers completing their Duke of Edinburgh’s Award hike.

This doesn’t even consider the Galston Gut Buster trail run, organized by local outdoor store Camp Hike Climb, which started being run annually in 2014, and has now been disbanded thanks to the QRT/GNW closure[4]. This was a great community event that encapsulated the best and most challenging bushland that Hornsby has to offer, attracting runners, including former champions, to Hornsby from all across Sydney and beyond. There was also a rogaining event held in the region in February 2014[5]. I have seen military personnel and army cadets doing training exercises on the track. Thanks to these selfish closures, opportunities to attract outsiders to Hornsby’s best parkland have been removed.

2. Evidence of the actual danger is lacking.
A 2016 publication highlighted that:
“The Audit for public safety conducted by Insearch in 1995, assessed the level of risk and the likelihood of death or injury from being hit by a bullet fired from the rifle range… The Range Inspector from the NSW Police Firearms Registry has reviewed the Safety Audit and determined that there is still a risk of death or injury for people traversing the range while shooting is occurring. That risk is not acceptable[6].”

Where is this report? Why is it not publicly available? It just sounds like a lot of weasel words rather than a comprehensive explanation. If there really was a risk, why was the track not closed years ago? Indeed, a document that noted after the initial “closure” in 2014 that “Access [on the Great North Walk between Fishponds and the Steele Bridge] will continue to be permitted without restriction along the Great North Walk because its location within local topography poses minimal risk from range firing activities[7].” Was this information wrong? If so why was it published? What has changed since then?

In addition, the section of track closed on the Hornsby side of the valley is right on the boundary of the range – how is a round going to travel so far to the right that it will actually land there? And to land on the track on the Dural side would require the round to be shot at such a high angle and speed that it would not be stopped by the retaining wall and the trees on the other side of the valley.

Leader of the NSW Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party Robert Borsak supports this view; he noted that there was “virtually no chance of a bullet from the range coming anywhere near walkers – you would have to hold the barrel at 80-85 degrees to get a bullet out of there – it’s nonsense and just a scare campaign[8].” Another writer noted that:
“On speaking with a Rifle Range member a few months ago, I was advised that, unless a person was standing on top of the Rifle Range sound barrier and shooting into the fire trail, it would be impossible for someone on the Fire Trail to be shot. Nor would they be in danger from a falling bullet that had lost impetus[9].”

Furthermore, even if we grant just for argument’s sake that there is a genuine risk on the track, if the range is not being used at all times, why do the tracks need to be closed off at all times? A public email from SNORC in 2014 indicated that “the rifle range hours are restricted to 9am to 4:30pm. Therefore it is safe to ride outside these hours… inside these hours you can call [the signposted number] and find out if is okay to ride[10].” Was this false? Have shooting times now changed so that range users can shoot 24/7?

Surely even if a risk is there, it must be much less than being hit by a falling tree or bitten by a snake on the track? And it must be much, much less than being hit by a car whilst cycling through Galston Gorge, the only other way that a cyclist can get to Hornsby from Dural.

What is the real risk? Surely the hundreds of people adversely affected by this closure deserve to know this rather than read terms such as “danger zone” and “unacceptable risk”. Where is the transparency? The lack of it indicates that the “authorities” are afraid of their own safety much more than they are of that of potential trail users.

3. The “alternative routes” outlined in the article are insufficient.
The Advocate’s recent article explains that:
“The Pogson’s Link track gave walkers a way to access Fishponds and the Great North Walk. [Walkers can] travel through the park safely on a formalized track that avoids fall hazards and minimizes the environmental damage of informal pathways… It also provides bushwalkers an alternative link on the GNW around the parcel of Crown land that houses Hornsby Rifle Range[2].”

It does not take a geography degree to determine this claim is entirely misleading – see attached map in Appendix A. Fishponds was always accessible from the GNW, coming from the south in Thornleigh, and now on the “alternative link” from the north on Manor Road. All this does is link up the end of Quarry Road, Dural, 400 metres from Pogson’s Trig, which gives no access to Galston Gorge because the section of the QRT to the north of this junction is now closed. Nor does this link help walkers access Stewart Ave, as the closest track head is Rosemead Road, Hornsby, several kilometres from this. Now getting to Galston gorge from Quarry Road, Dural is about 10km – over double the distance via Tunk’s Ridge, not to mention two additional 150 vertical metre climbs.

Additionally, a track always existed here (albeit rougher before being rebuilt), so it is false to advertise this this as a new track, for it is not. It was always marked on topographical maps and I have run and walked up and down this track many times prior to its redevelopment. I would presume that if patronage statistics were ever taken, they would reflect a miniscule increase in usage – hardly worth the installation cost.

So, here’s what we’ve now got: NPWS has spent a great (undisclosed) amount of (assumedly taxpayer or donor) money to have sandstone rocks helicopter-lifted in to upgrade almost the entirety of a steep 600m track that does not replace any of the links that have been cut off by the QRT/GNW closure. If they had simply consulted with interested parties they would have quickly been informed of this and given any number of alternative suggestions of productive uses of their self-described “limited budget?” I will certainly think twice before making future donations to NPWS if this is where they go towards (this doesn’t even consider the cost of the gates themselves).

Furthermore, there is now no access at all via bike between Dural and Hornsby, except by carrying one’s bike down the said track from Pogson’s Trig and carrying it back up to Manor Road, so now commuting cyclists must traverse the busy and dangerous Galston Gorge instead, infinitely riskier than a stray round landing on the track. Should Galston gorge now be closed to cyclists (or moreover, motor vehicles) as well because “the risk is not acceptable?”

An adequate alternative route must be multi-user (foot/cyclist) friendly, and connect the locations that have been detached from the closure. I have pointed out an idea of this in the attached map, with a track going to the north of the range boundaries on the eastern side, and several contours lower than the existing fire trail on the western side.

4. The means in which the Rifle Association and NPWS implemented this closure was a PR failure.

Hornsby Rifle Range Users’ Group Vice President Drew Thornton complains about “vandals” who are pulling down “safety” gates:
“We were asked to put gates in place, which we did, and almost immediately they were damaged. We made a report to the police then repaired the fences and again, within days, they were vandalised… we will keep repairing them. National Parks are doing their best with a limited budget. We don’t have a massive amount to continue to be spending, doing everything we can to make the range and environment safe[2].”

As previously stated, hundreds of people have used this track regularly for decades, 99% of whom want nothing but to be able to enjoy the iconic parklands in “The Bushland Shire.” None of these groups involved in this closure seem to have any empathy towards these parties, instead now painting them as “vandals,” “trespassers,” and “offenders.” Irrespective of the legality of this “vandalism,” it must be said that
a) the gates themselves were not taken down, despite what the article suggests, and
b) there is no additional safety risk if the wire is removed – the gate and adjacent sign make it obvious that the track beyond this point is closed off, and anyone going beyond this knows they do so at their own risk.

It is worth re-iterating how the process of the trail closure occurred. In 2014, the original signs [17] were replaced with more forthright signage indicating that usage (at least in certain times) was prohibited [18],[19]. Despite many walkers, runners and cyclists attempting to find out more by sending emails to NPWS officials etc. (including myself – see Appendix B), very little public information was given, leading to 4 large gates being installed in December 2016, again with no additional information.

The alliance that developed the document outlining the so-called “risks[6]” was said to be a joint effort of the North Shore Regional Target Shooting Complex Management Association, NSW Police, NSW Department of Primary Industries ‐ Lands & NPWS, which claims to a “multiagency working group” to obtain input from numerous stakeholders.

Where was the consultation with MTB and cycling groups such as SNORC and NoBMoB? Where was the consultation with trail running groups such as the Sydney Striders or Berowra Bush Runners? Where was the consultation with walking and Bushcare groups? Where was the consultation with Duke of Edinburgh and other school camp organizations? A cursory Google of “Quarry Road Track, Hornsby” gives a myriad of results about this track sourced by these and more groups, and leaving them isolated from any discussion about the future of this track seems narrow-minded and selfish. As Campbell King puts it, “To lead to a situation where the rifle range have had to build gates suggests that NPWS are not willing towards a better solution[3].”

Furthermore, where was the consultation with the Rural Fire Service, the organization that a fire trail’s primary purpose is to serve? There was no reference to them in the limited documentation available about this track (though insider comments have indicated that they are also displeased with it). I can only speculate that in the case of bushfire or backburn, they would not appreciate having to open and shut four additional gates in their pursuit of protecting properties in the community.

NPWS and the Rifle Range alliance have had literally years to consult the aforementioned groups about the risks since they were allegedly first noted in 1995[6]. A simple sign at the track head and a couple of emails to group representatives notifying them of public forums on the issue would have had dozens of people in attendance, prepared to discuss the matter rationally and listen to each other’s points of view.

This has been already proven by the mountain biking community, who quite literally flocked to Hornsby Council meetings from all areas of Sydney whenever the Old Mans Valley trails were on the agenda. They successfully negotiated to have a series of mountain bike trails built, and then rebuilt, at OMV despite cohabiting with the major NorthConnex project. Similar crowds turned out at a public consultation for the future of the Westleigh Water Board land in 2016[12]. These are two locations that could be easily be classed as “risky” and “dangerous,” or “trespassing,” but the rational arguments and perseverance of these communities have been able to persuade authorities otherwise. Why can this not the case for the rifle range?

There have been years to build a trail around the so-called “danger zone” for mountain bikes – to the north of the range boundaries on the Hornsby side, and behind the ridge on the Dural side. Had any of these entities raised this, a myriad of passionate volunteers would have raised their hands – as occurred at the former Old Mans Valley[13] and Westleigh MTB tracks, the latter of which was built and is maintained exclusively by volunteers[14].

To add to the irony of the situation of the gates and fence installed due to the safety issue, the original wire (which was cut), could not have been installed in a less safe manner – thin wire with no bright material warning of its existence (until a runner/cyclist attached a piece of red tape to one), and sharp star pickets with no protection over the top. By removing one hypothetical “danger,” the Range Users Group has created another[20]. Well done.

In response to the “frustration” of Drew Thornton and the Rifle Range Users’ group, we ask him – how would he feel if the Hornsby Rifle Range, where he has obviously been visiting regularly for quite some time, were suddenly fenced off without any consultation to any members of the Rifle Association, and then being told that entering the range was trespassing and those that did so were “vandals,” and being told that the alternative was to fire .22s in close range and any larger firearms were off limits and they had to go to Malabar to use them. That is exactly what has happened to the walking/running/mountain biking community. It is hard to have any sympathy over this matter given the circumstances that led to the said wire being torn down.

There should therefore be no surprises that the fences around the gates have been damaged if the level of consultation with the said users was so poor.

5. No one group seems to publicly take responsibility for the installation of the gates
This situation is a classic example of buck passing, where no one group will take ultimate responsibility for the situation. Obviously, the gates were installed because somebody decided that it was a good idea, but all groups involved seem to indicate that it was somebody else. As previously stated, Mr. Thornton reports that “We [the range] were asked to put gates in place, which we did, and almost immediately they were damaged…we will keep repairing them,” noting that “National Parks are doing their best with a limited budget[2].” Yet here’s what NPWS signage says at the track boundaries:
“Please Note: The Rifle Range Danger Area is Private Property and not part of Berowra Valley National Park. For more information contact the North Shore Regional Target Shooting Complex[21].”

Despite NSW Police firing range inspector Dick Oakley’s assessment that the “25 metre pistol range…had not been maintained to high [military] standard[16],” instead of responding by fixing the range, as is logically suggested by NSW Greens leader David Shoebridge, they instead shut the track. And of course, when bewildered track users have queried this, noting that they had traversed it for years without issue, the best public response that can be mustered up by rifle range spokespeople is to turn it back onto them and state that they “had no choice in the decision, but that the track should not have ever been allowed to be used by bushwalkers[16].” How were they supposed to know this if public sites advertised all the tracks prior to their closure?

It is self-evident that if a change had been made, at least one person or body is responsible for it. Whoever that was needs to publicly admit this so that they can liaise with stakeholders directly.

************************************************************************************************
So, here’s where we’re at: we could have had signage acknowledging that a danger was there (but was extremely minimal, if at all), and advising users to enter at their own risk, as has been the case for decades. The rifle range could have improved its barriers at the end of the range to prevent any rounds going beyond if there was a risk. We could have had negotiation with range personnel regarding usage times to clearly outline when tracks could be accessed when no firing was in place, which was noted to be outside of 9am and 5pm in 2016[16]. We could have volunteer-built and maintained alternative tracks around this so-called danger zone. But, no, instead the entity responsible did what was easiest (for them): have 4 massive gates thrown up to deny all public access in the most shambolic and least consultative means possible.

The most significant thing this stunt has done is broadened the chasm between gun enthusiasts and outdoor recreationists – two groups that are becoming mutually exclusive but needn’t be if they would simply consult each other. The North Shore Regional Target Shooting Association has now effectively lost any sympathy from any support other bush users may give to their future cause. As Susanna Mills puts it in her letter in the Bush Telegraph:
“This lockout exhibits a disregard of all those who have run, walked or cycled along the Quarry Road Fire trail; appreciate its breathtaking natural beauty; used its heritage bridge to cross Berowra Creek easily and safely, or the hundreds of off-road cyclists who have used it as a safe training route or alternative cycle commuting link between Hornsby and Dural instead of Galston Gorge Road, which is now the only bridge across Berowra Creek[15].”

That National Parks and other bureaucrats seem to have given a rifle group in the so-called “Bushland Shire” the monopoly of an iconic and unique section of bushland makes me very sad. This is nanny state to the extreme, and I only hope that a person with common sense can see the situation for what it is and make rectifications as necessary.

Warm Regards,

Tristania

References

[1] NSW MTB association, Quarry Road Track (Berowra Valley)
[2] Nigel Gladstone, Hornsby Advocate, p7, April 6, 2017, ‘Gates protecting public from rifle range risk taken down’
[3] Campbell King, Hornsby Advocate, p20, April 13, 2017, Letters
[4] Galston Gut Buster Website, 2017 , ‘Due to Unforeseen circumstances the 2017 Galston Gut Buster has been cancelled’
[5] NSW Rogaining Association, ‘Metrogaine – “Hornsbygaine” 6 hour, Sunday 9th February 2014’
[6] North Shore Regional Target Shooting Complex Management Association, NSW Police, NSW Department of Primary Industries ‐ Lands & NPWS, 2016, ‘Hornsby Rifle Range & Berowra Valley National Park’
[7]NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service Michele Cooper, NSW Government Office of Environment & Heritage, 2014, ‘Closure of the sections of the Berowra Valley Quarry Trail within the Hornsby Rifle Range danger area and contact point for requests for access’
[8] Nigel Gladstone, Hornsby Advocate, April 20, 2016, ‘Great North Walk detour in section of the Benowie Track around the Hornsby rifle range draws fire’
[9] “Vigilant Hornsby Resident,” The Bush Telegraph Weekly, p6, April 27, 2017, Comments
[10] Sydney North Off Road Cyclists, Email to club members, August, 2014. Transcript available here
[11] Nobmob.com, March 3, 2017, ‘The Future of OMV – Hornsby Council Stakeholder Meeting’
[12] Daily Telegraph, September 15, 2016, ‘Community rallies around new Water Board park in Westleigh’
[13] Nigel Gladstone, Hornsby Advocate, February 22, 2017,’ ‘New plan for park at Hornsby Quarry and Old Mans valley open to suggestions from residents’
[14] Nigel Gladstone, Hornsby Advocate, April 26, 2017, ‘Westleigh waterboard land new sportsfields at least 10 years away as mountain bike trails get assessed’
[15] Susanna Mills, The Bush Telegraph Weekly, p4 April 13, 2017, Comments
[16] James Robertson, Sydney Morning Herald, April 17, 2016, ‘Bushwalkers along the Great North Walk shut out for shooters’

Images

[17] Original signage prior to the 2014 QRT closure
Dont forget your hardhat and bullet proof vest for this one
[18] Signage indicating the closure of the QRT & GNW sections, erected July 2014
NPWS Trail Restiction Safety Notice - Hornsby Rifle Range
[19] Sign near each gate, erected July 2015 (When a contact phoned this number, the reported response was “No access to any bicycles ever.”)
Sign marking rifle range boundaries
[20] Dangerous and barely-visible wire & uncovered star pickets erected around the gates, erected December 2016
Wire and Star Pickets around gate in danger zone Wire and Star pickets around gates in the rifle range
[21] Signage indicating the Benowie Track is closed, denying any responsibility of NPWS involvement
Signage indicating the rifle range is out of bounds, installed 2016

Appendix A Map of range boundaries and surrounding bush

Showing gate locations, Pogson’s Link Trail, and suggested alternative routes that can be built
Map of Rifle Range Boundaries

Appendix B My email that was sent to Michele Cooper, August, 2014

No response was received…

Hi XXXXX,

I have been informed by Sydney North Off Road Cyclists that you are the area manager for the Berowra Valley Region and am writing to you in regards to my concerns about the recent new signage that has gone up in sections of the Quarry Road Track that are in the rifle range areas the currently are restricting access to sections of the track. The information that I have received is that currently the range hours is 9am-4:30pm, and there is hence no danger being on the track out of these hours, and one can ring the signposted number to check availability outside these hours. However, I am also under the impression of the possibility of NWPS installing a large gate at the range boundaries which will prevent access at all times.

Firstly, I am concerned that the information given on the signs is misleading. The trackhead sign says "The Hornsby Rifle Range may be use at any time and all persons are excluded from entering the danger area without permission." Considering that the range authorities state that shooting only occurs in the above hours, would it not be sensible to instead to state these hours on the signage and then call to check availability inside these hours? Upon a glance at the signs, one would be under the impression that access is denied at all times, and upon examining other information, this simply does not seem to be the case, and it seems like this could result in people being turned away from riding or walking on the track at a time when, in reality, there is no danger.

Secondly, I would like to question the purpose of putting padlocked barriers at the range boundaries if an alternative route is not devised. I have been informed that both SNORC and the range are paging for another track to be built around the danger area, but I know that whether it is fire trail or singletrack, it will be timely and costly, so have a feeling that doing so will be costly. This seems to me that it will cause more harm than good, as in the legal hours, it will then block access to the track (unless someone is employed to open and shut them every day) completely. Additionally, unless the barriers are made extremely high and wide, people who are determined will climb around them, defeating the purpose of their existence.

I am a 20 year old electrical engineering student who uses cycling as a stress relief from my course and hope to become an elite mountain bike racer in the coming years. Much of my love and talent for the sport has been a result of the existence of the QRT 5km from my house, for the exhilarating descents and fitness improvement due to the climbs, and have ridden the track once every one or two weeks for the past five years. I have taken many people on this track since and know that is has improved immeasurably the fitness of many people, cyclists, runners and walkers alike, and the prospect of the use of the track being hindered is distressing.

I appreciate NPWS putting measures in place to protect the public of projectiles, and on behalf of many others, wish to thank those who were responsible for the new Oaks Singletrack, and know that this has helped close the gap between mountain bikers and national parks, and would like to express my support, on behalf of all Sydney cyclists, that NPWS reconsider their plans for QRT and come up with a solution to the issue that still allows some form of access between Dural and Hornsby in a safe and legal manner.

Regards, Tristania

cambo's picture

I had no idea it had been closed off fully (lack of mtbíng lately). This is a real shame given the amount of usage from individuals and groups alike. One of the best training grounds around for hills and an all time favourite.

The risk of being struck by a stray bullet is ridiculously low as is the IQ of the person/s responsible for this decision. Email to MP will be forthcoming.

Keep agitating Tristan and we might be able to shift the thinking of some more selfish than most of us

Contact link below for Matt Kean. I am sure if enough people bombard his website he may take an interest

http://mattkean.com.au/

shano's picture

Letter has been sent.

spindog's picture

hi Tris,

Thanks for the very 'forensic' analysis of what happened here. I have to admit I was wondering just exactly how this curious situation had come about. btw I think you may have a strong future as an investigative journalist Eye-wink

More seriously though the Shooters and Fishers are 'special friends' of the current government and their sport has received very generous handouts in recent times. I vaguely recall seeing an article in the local paper a few months ago with a number of around $6m (can't seem to find it though)

Would that we could muster the same sway for our sport...just need to get a senator elected somehow so we have some leverage!

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