You are hereForums / Archives / Action I've Taken / Over 2 years of NPWS indecision on Mountain Bike Trails

Over 2 years of NPWS indecision on Mountain Bike Trails

Rob's picture

By Rob - Posted on 13 May 2010

Following up from NPWS issues - It's time for some letter writing!, here's what I just sent to the minister and senior DECCW staff:

Dear Minister and senior staff,

I write to you as a frustrated user of NSW National Parks. While I enjoy bush walking, paddling a kayak from time to time, picnics and other forms of recreation in parks, my main passion is cycling. Just about every weekend I can be found out with friends cycling, either on or off-road, through the local parks, my preference is to ride off-road though, and that is where the frustration builds:

This is due to ad-hoc policies and planning methods throughout the National Parks network which severely limit recreational choices locally. There are various elements to riding that myself and many others enjoy, but why can parks users in Sydney North not enjoy these elements fully and fairly as other users do all around Sydney? What is it about the management of parks in Sydney North that has lead to a state of exclusion for activities that are either allowed, or actively encouraged even, in other NSW parks?

If you need a summary of this, please take the following:

While we appreciate recent efforts that have been made by staff on the ground, their efforts do not seem to be backed up with management decisions and thus no real action can follow. We need a fair go for mountain bike riders in the National Parks of Sydney North. They aren't asking for anything that hasn't already been done elsewhere in the state.

To elaborate though, let me explain how, over the last 2 years or so, frustration levels have been building:

When I first started riding in Sydney I just followed the crowd. I didn't really know where I was, signs in the areas I was riding in then were non-existent, but it was all great fun and the countryside was wonderful. I wondered how on earth other people who weren't as fortunate as I to meet locals who knew the trails would cope, and to this end started a web site with some friends. This site, "Northern Beaches MTB" ( has since grown into a vibrant community which I believe has helped many people find the wonderful recreation areas I was so lucky to be introduced to.

Over the years we have seen an explosion in the popularity of this web site and also the sport in general. I don't know if you are aware, but for several years now bicycles have outsold cars in Australia. The Cycling Promotion Fund states 1.59 million Australians adults cycled in 2007 (9.7% of the population). Retail Cycle Traders Australia statistics show that 1998-2005 70% of all bike sales were mountain bikes, and 60% of all bike sales were for adult bikes, so as you can see, we are not talking about children only or road riders - the majority of recreational users are off road riders and they need trails to ride on.

Our website has almost 2,600 members and a monthly readership (as estimated from server logs) of over 26,000 unique visitors (March 2010). Yet this reflects but a small proportion of riders in NSW. APC Magazines for example estimates readership of their 'Australian Mountain Bike' magazine to be about 70,000. The real active base of riders would be very hard to measure as the majority of riders neither belong to any club or organisation nor subscribe to magazines or use websites.

In April 2008, due to our involvement in this website, myself and another member were contacted by local NPWS rangers. They advised that riding all areas of 'single trail' (the bike rider's favourite type of track) in National Parks was illegal. They pointed out this has always been the case as per Plan of Management documents. I was asked to alter the content of our community website to advise riders to steer clear of these areas. I did this immediately in order to comply with the legal aspect of their request but found this disturbing on many levels.

At this time (April 2008) we were told by local rangers that the only area of interest to them was Oxford Falls, part of Garigal National Park. They mentioned that the Plan of Management for this park was due for review (it is dated November 1998) and that we should look forward to an opportunity to comment when that happened. I since discovered an internal 'review' was performed and it was decided there was no need to update the document, which is odd given the changing usage patterns staff knew was happening in the park (hence their contact with us in the first place).

Then, despite assurances by staff at that time (April 2008) that Oxford Falls was the only area of interest, throughout the following 18 months or so (estimated) they systematically shut down other cycling trails in other local areas. In many cases closure included the erection of unsightly and clearly expensive gates and fences which spoilt the whole ambiance of the parkland these staff are suppose to protect.

On 22 October 2008 I wrote to your predecessor (Carmel Tebbutt) about these unsavoury developments and fully explained the issues.

Nothing much happened for some time. Discussions with parks staff continued, but local staff have always used the argument that local parks Plan of Management documents (PoMs) exclude riding on single track, as they are classed as walking tracks. While that is true, the Garigal PoM for example states, "...cycling will be permitted on management tracks within the park."

So if you note that cycling on management tracks is allowed and there is nothing technically stopping certain trails that are suitable riding being re-classified as management tracks. Do rangers not use all these as part of their management and monitoring of the park? So are they not management tracks anyway? This would seem to be at least a 'stopgap' way forward for amicable access until PoM documents can be updated to fully legalise this. Sadly local staff did not see it that way and the trails remained shut.

On 13 August 2009 I was one of a number of people who met with Ms Tebbutt to discuss these matters in more detail. Our point of view seemed to be well received here.

Finally, In September 2009 it was announced that Sydney's Northern Beaches National Parks were to pilot Sustainable MTB Access. This announcement was positioned as an initial stage of consultation that would direct the Government's broader strategy on mountain biking, which was to be finalised at the beginning of 2010.

It should be noted that in the following months a number of other meetings and workshops have been held, but despite the best efforts of NPWS staff in our region to help find a solution, for which they should be thanked, it seems policy direction and decisions that need to be made at in higher management are lacking.

Given this situation, the sad truth is that nothing of substance has come from any of this. When it comes down to it, no real action has been seen from National Parks:

- There has been no update to the cycling policy.
- There have been no updates to woefully out of date PoM documents for parks in the Sydney North Region.
- There has been no broader strategy on mountain biking published as promised.
- While one can understand constraints may have prevented some of this, National Parks have not even had the foresight to publish a plan with time frames of how cyclists should be catered for in an ideal world.
- There have been no announcements from National Parks on any of this.

What is frustrating in the above, is that it first appeared that some kind of change of policy or plan or strategy was required to allow riders in Sydney North to once again use the trails they had been used to frequenting prior to April 2008. However, when one looks deeply into the issue, one finds that there is no real legislative or other reason why riders had to be banned from the trails they had enjoyed for many years. This came as a bit of a shock to be honest, and one has to assume that the only real impediment then, is the will of local parks management.

This truly seems to be the case as when one begins to look beyond Sydney North, where riders have been persecuted, the following steps have been taken, benefiting both parks and all park users:

- In the Royal National Park, after a period of in-activity, volunteer trail maintenance days have restarted. These days allow local bike riders to look after sections of trail (including a number single tracks) in the park, which fosters appreciate of the park and also a sense of achievement for those involved. To the best of my knowledge, these days have been an almost monthly occurrence since August 2009 and are always well attended.

- Glenrock State Conservation Area shares many of the issues as parks on the Northern Beaches. However, instead of enforcing exclusion of a major user group, staff at this park worked with the community in an attempt to find common ground and solve problems. As a result, many trails within this park have been legalised, proper planning and maintenance has returned to the trail network there and the outcome for all sides is better.

This is quiet aside from the fact that the type of riding cyclists in Sydney North are asking for has been going on for years, both in Blue Mountains National Park, where there is an incredibly popular section of single track next to the very well known 'Oaks' firetrail and in Kosciusko National Park at Thredbo.

I ask you then: Would you be frustrated too, if you were not allowed to partake in your chosen recreation in your local parks, while you see those very activities being allowed and even encouraged all around?

Could you please then, instruct Sydney North National Parks staff and rangers to follow the examples from elsewhere in the state, and without further delay make good on the promise of "Sustainable MTB Access" made back in September.

With thanks,

Robin Rainton

Address and contact number provided.

nrthrnben's picture

Thankyou Rob,

This letter is with out a doubt conveys the strong feelings of all mountain bikers accross the northside.

Thanks again.

brakeburner's picture

also dropped them an e-mail

Simon's picture

Rather than "instruct" them I believe it is more a case of "enable" them.

These staff have been working really hard behind the scenes with workshops, consultation and meeting with green groups and user groups. All this while performing their normal duties.

From what I hear they have also copped some flack on our behalf from people who are opposed.

I believe they need more high level support to enable them to move forward with a solution both in terms of resources on the ground and politically in addressing both founded and unfounded community environmental concerns.

herzog's picture

Cracking letter Rob. I'll get something sent over the weekend.

BobaFett's picture

Thanks for the efforts to date to use community consultation and smart design to manage mountain biking in Northern Sydney. But let’s translate positive talk to action on the ground and implement some of the great solutions that DECCW have come up with!

- Cycling is the number 4 recreation in Australia and 70% of bikes sold are mountain bikes (800,000 each year).
- Mountain bike trails cost 5-10% of a concrete bike path.
- Mountain biking can provide an opportunity to learn to ride safely. This gets people into cycling.
- While there are thousands of courts, pools and fields in Sydney, there are no purpose built recreational single track mountain bike facilities.
- The gross over demand and under supply of facilities has led to extensive illegal trail construction and use and subsequent environmental damage and user conflict.
- DECCW has done some fantastic work building relationships with the mountain bike community in Northern Sydney. There is a partnership forming and a huge potential for community volunteer resource.
- Cycling on sustainable singletrack that has been designed for bicycle use has a similar impact to walking on bushwalking trails.
- Local Councils are trying to work on this issue. But so much of the bushland is controlled by DECCW. They need your support.
- Please make a difference that will lead to more people coming to value the bushland and stay healthy.
- Inaction does not equal conservation. Let’s not wait another 10 years and watch the illegal trails proliferate while our kids get fat and great at eye hand co-ordination via the XBOX whilst losing interest in our natural heritage.


Yours faithfully,

Caro's picture

Hope it helps

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Best Mountain Bike