The Community Environment Network supports mountain biking but we are concerned about its suitability in the Coastal Open Space System (COSS). That is why we are urging our members, supporters and the broader community to oppose, via Central Coast Council's Your Voice Our Coast website, any plans to build new trails in COSS or approve existing illegal trails.
Central Coast Council staff are considering a Mountain Bike Strategy to build and manage mountain bike tracks and parks in Council-owned reserves, including COSS. A Mountain Bike Feasibility Discussion Paper is currently on exhibition until March 22 via yourvoiceourcoast.com.au.
The discussion paper acknowledges that the construction of unauthorised mountain bike trails poses environmental, heritage and reputational risk to Council.
The conclusions acknowledge significant community concern for the protection of COSS described as “highly valued by the community”.
Yet the discussion paper that is now on public exhibition is flawed.
We are urging Central Coast residents who care about protecting ecologically sensitive land to make a submission against Council moving forward with a full-blown Mountain Bike Strategy via yourvoiceourcoast before March 22.
The encroachment of mountain bike trail building and riding into sensitive environmental and heritage land is a real risk to biodiversity and has already caused damage to Ecologically Endangered Communities (EECs) in COSS.
Each 22km mountain bike track clears a football field of bush but the discussion paper’s section on environmental impacts is inadequate. It is limited to impacts during construction, the impacts of bikes versus hikers, and the importance of design and management.
The discussion paper has no information about the Endangered Ecological Communities and Regionally Significant species found in Council reserves. It fails to inform the community about the fragility of the fauna and flora within COSS.
The discussion paper does not even consider the environmental and heritage value of the reserves that could become regional mountain bike parks.
It understates the damage that has already occurred as a result of illegal trail building and use. It fails to mention the illegal tree removal, damage to hanging swamps and rainforest, interference with creeks and damage to sandstone platforms that has already occurred.
The discussion paper identifies Kincumba Mountain Reserve, Rumbalara, Katandra and Ferntree Reserves, Munmorah State Conservation Area and Wyrrabalong National Park as sites suitable for regional mountain bike parks.
A regional site is required to have between 20km and 80km of trail, two loops, a site area of more than 500 hectares, a location within 40km of a 15,000 population and less than 10km from highways and major roads. Turning Kincumba, Rumbalara, Katandra or Ferntree into a regional mountain bike facility would completely undermine their biodiversity value and cause irreversible damage. These iconic reserves, so important for their ecological value, would be lost.
As a case study, the extensive network of illegal trails all over Kincumba Mountain Reserve indicates how Council staff’s neglect has resulted in significant and potentially irreversible environmental damage. Representatives of the Community Environment Network have walked illegal trails on Kincumba Mountain to quantify and qualify concerns expressed by the community.
The extent of the damage must be witnessed to be believed. Countless trees have been broken, chopped or sawn down without approval. Of particular concern was damage to hanging swamp and rainforest terrain in the reserve.
The moving of sandstone rocks to build an illegal trail through a hanging swamp has displaced obvious above-ground flora and species in the soil – seeds, bulbs, corms, rhizomes, rootstocks or lignotubers.
The illegal damage already done to the Kincumba Mountain hanging swamp would also have an impact on micro-organisms, fungi, cryptogamic plants and a diverse fauna, both vertebrate and invertebrate.
There are many other examples of existing damage to COSS across other reserves caused by mountain bike trail building and riding.
Lack of data
Council has asked the community to participate in consultation when it has not even done a trail audit or a demand analysis.
The discussion paper talks about high levels of demand for mountain biking without evidence. How can the community make up its mind about the feasibility of mountain biking without a trail audit or a demand analysis?
The paper does not include an audit of the damage already done to the reserves, even those listed as popular mountain bike locations on the Central Coast.
Of the 22 sites listed in the Mountain Bike Feasibility Study Discussion Paper, Kincumba Mountain appears to be one of the only potential mountain bike sites to have been visited as part of preparation of the study. Why have so few site visits been conducted? Surely if staff were serious about determining the feasibility of this activity as a major tourist drawcard, more site visits needed to be conducted before the study went on exhibition.
Kids in the candy shop
Council staff have abrogated their responsibility to manage illegal activities in Council reserves. They have taken no, or very little, action in recent years to monitor or fine those participating in illegal trail building and use. The discussion paper glosses over the ecological risks of opening reserves for more mountain bike activity.
Council staff want to collaborate with mountain bike riding groups to locate and develop new, “sustainable” riding opportunities. Some unauthorised trails may be closed but if a trail has been audited and all stakeholders agree it may be converted into a sanctioned trail.
Sanctioned trail networks on public or leased land would be maintained and managed by mountain bikers. Will they have the expertise or the inclination to protect biodiversity? Will this restrict access to reserves by the general public?
If Council decides to make the Central Coast a mountain bike riding destination, a Regional Trails Plan will be developed in consultation with land managers and the mountain bike community. Other key stakeholders, including anyone with environmental expertise, appear to have been excluded from this consultation. Will the broader community and those concerned about conservation be consulted?
Council’s draft trails approval process implies mountain bike groups will be able to propose sites for new trails in an open-ended fashion. This poses the risk of environmental degradation across swathes of bushland.
Council’s consultants, World Trail, recommend that locations for trails should include the “opportunity to extend” the network of trails as demand increases. Does this mean more trails will be built in COSS on an ongoing basis?
Can Central Coast Council afford this?
Both a trail audit and a demand analysis will require significant staff resources, particularly given the extent of illegal trails. Council has not been able to afford the resources to properly address the illegal building of tracks in its reserves. It is therefore questionable whether Central Coast Council can afford this speculative project with significant and quantifiable costs for potentially insignificant and unquantified benefits/revenue.
The discussion paper repeatedly asserts high levels of demand for mountain biking without completing a demand analysis. A detailed analysis of demand is needed to substantiate any additional spending on this project. The demand analysis should have been completed as part of preparation of the discussion paper. How else can the community assess whether or not there is a measurable economic benefit to the region from this venture?
Council staff’s focus appears to be on building formal tracks to attract tourist revenue to the region. This emphasis is unimaginative and reflective of staff’s ongoing preference for picking low-hanging fruit rather than developing a vision for the Central Coast that reflects its abundant potential as an internationally-significant eco tourism destination. This is the latest of many “lightbulb” grabs for cash in the grand tradition of Chinese theme parks, passenger airports and giant pelicans.
It is of interest that the Department of Premier and Cabinet was consulted by staff as a stakeholder in this feasibility study. According to the discussion paper, a senior project officer within the DPC said a NSW Mountain Bike Strategy was currently being put together.
“Some cross-agency networks have recently been established in northern Sydney. Hornsby-Kur ring gai and Northern Beaches councils are working together with National Parks and other state land managers to look at ways to meet the growing demand for mountain biking”.
It is of note that Central Coast Council does not appear to have been included in this networking. In light of the council’s current financial crisis it may be considered reckless to spend any more money on the feasibility of mountain biking. If other regions are more advanced than the Central Coast the unmet demand for mountain bike locations may very well be met before Central Coast Council is able to develop anything.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
If you think sensitive COSS lands need to be kept for passive recreation and conservation and other, more appropriate, locations found for mountain bike riding, please have your say before March 22 at yourvoiceourcoast.com.au.
Be sure to:
1. Register your interest to discuss the proposal with project staff
2. Ask a question and have the answer published
4. Encourage others in the community who share your concerns to also participate in the consultation
6. Register to speak at a Central Coast Council public forum about the importance of protecting COSS