The following notes are provided for equestrians wishing to comment on the Draft Canberra Mountain Biking Report, aimed at creating Canberra an international mountain biking destination. To see the Report go to https://yoursay.act.gov.au/CanberraMTBExperience .
The ACT Equestrian Association will be making a detailed submission by the closing date of 3 November but wants to draw attention to some of the issues with the Report to assist people making submissions.
Canberra Off Road Cyclists have asked their members to make an electronic submission even if its only to say they support the Report. ACTEA encourages all equestrians to also make their views known.
If you ave suggestions, questions or wish to share your own submissions please contact ACTEA at firstname.lastname@example.org
The definition of a stakeholder is ‘anybody who can affect or is affected by an organisation, strategy or project‘. As far as ACTEA can ascertain the identified stakeholders in this report are an Industry Project Reference Group who represent mountain biking interests, land managers such as Parks & Conservation, and those people, primarily cyclists, who attended 3 workshops in July 2019 which discussed where new and improved trails should be. ACTEA made a submission at this stage but there was no attempt to engage the members of the other Government reference group – the Recreation Users Group – many of whose members are users of the spaces targeted by this Report.
In July 2018 the Recreation Users Group was told that the concept of the Best of Canberra Trail Design Project was to link up cycle & multi use trails (e.g. Stromlo/Arboretum/Cotter) with new trails to create a loop that may highlight great recreational opportunities. The project was branded as a cycle trail but the design could have elements of multi-use trails and loops off the main loop. (RUG Minutes 24 July 2018).Twelve months later RUG was told the Project would link trails from Stromlo to Casuarina Sands, and include shared use trails at the Cotter. (RUG Minutes 14 July 2020). There was some astonishment, then, when it became obvious that the mountain biking community is proposing to establish a mountain biking hub in Blue Range – an area already used by mountain runners, bushwalkers, orienteers, horse riders and rally drivers and others for many decades.
On page 43 the Draft Canberra Mountain Biking Report states that
Trail-based recreation opportunities for other users such as walkers, trail runners and equestrians is also an important consideration in the development of new trails and thereafter neglects to mention them again or consider any impact new MTB tracks might have on those users.
The Report treats the whole expanse of public land from the top of Mount Stromlo, through the Cotter Reserve, around Uriarra Village and up into Blue Range and Sherwood Forest as ‘terra nullias‘, ie, belonging to no one, therefor available for appropriation which is manifestly untrue.
Where is the chapter of the Report which discusses the potential impact on current and future users of these spaces and trails who are not mountain bike riders?
Shared Use Trails
The Report uses the term ‘shared use‘ eleven times without providing a definition of its meaning. The mountain bike community appears to consider that any public trail that is not an MTB trail can be appropriately shared by them. The ACT Equestrian Association is strongly of the view that not all trails are happily shared by mountain bikes and horses. Horses are easily upset by speed and in places where the terrain and elevation is conducive mountain bikes do speed, regardless of the presence of other users. The rash of accidents and near accidents to horse riuders on the BNT at Easter this year is proof that a largish section of the MTB community have no regard for the safety of others on ‘shared’ trails. Table 3 on page 24 lists a number of existing MTB areas in the ACT.
Majura Pines is listed as having shared trails when it is quite clear from the area map that there are identified equestrian trails that are only crossed by bike tracks in a couple of places. Horses are confined to these management tracks. Isaacs Ridge is a downhill biking destination with the Centenary Trail passing through it. There are identified equestrian trails at Isaacs and horses are not expected to use other trails. When builders started constructing MTB trails in the Zoo Pines they hammered ‘No Horses’ signs to the pine trees but there are bike tire tracks on the only designated horse trail in the area. In other words the manifestation of a ‘shared trail’ is that regardless of who the trail was designed for MTBs can share it but the reverse is not true.
When racing mountain bikes cause anxiety, if not accidents, on the BNT the response is that it is a shared trail – apparently making unsafe behaviour okay. The Report states that the Canberra Centenary Trail and the Bicentennial National Trail are multi use trails suitable for mountain biking (page 30). The Bicentennial National Trail was created as a long distance horse trail and it is, in the main, designed to be ridden on a horse. In Canberra it deliberately links equestrian facilities to each other. Its attractions meant, however, that walkers and cyclists were also keen to experience unassisted touring. The BNT is not a race track but you would not know that on parts of the route in Canberra, especially those with any elevation. The ACT is the only part of the length of the BNT where safety has become an issue because of speeding mountain bikes. The knowledge that this would be a problem is the main reason why the Centenary Trail is separated form the BNT. The decision, made in 2010, reflected the understanding that the BNT would be much safer for horses if they stayed clear of runners and bikers on a separate Centenary Trail. It was a deliberate decision strongly supported by ACTEA and the BNT Board. We are not aware that anyone has consulted either the local BNT Coordinator or the ACT Equestrian Association about the safety of incorporating a horse trail into an MTB network and we object strongly.
Maps (pages 45,48,51,52,55,56,58)
The maps contained in the Report are very bad, uninformative and seem designed to confuse. They are hard to read and the scale is dreadful but if you look carefully there are a lot of thin green lines all over the place labelled potential precinct trails. These trails do not necessarily exist now. They are an ambit claim.
ACT Parks have produced some more accessible interactive maps at https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1TeGfIzCVDK_xYTmb_tzb8AGxHvdfbGVn&ouid=0&ll=-35.29092441585973%2C148.88312683059556&z=14 but they do not reproduce the green potential trails people who use these areas need to be aware of.
Stromlo Forest Park
The Report sees Stromlo as a significant hub for expanding westward. It identifies expanding the trail network in Stromlo as a priority. The link trail connecting the eastern side of Mount Stromlo to the Cotter Reserve will go straight through West Stromlo cutting through the management tracks presently used by equestrians. Car parks off Uriarra Road are also flagged. Given that the eastern face of Stromlo is not welcoming of horses we need to fight to protect West Stromlo as a destination for riders on the Cotter Road.
The Report proposes a connection from the existing MTB tracks in Hyles Block across the road from Uriarra Village, through the pine forest recreation area to the east of the Village and around the edge of the horse paddocks. There also appear to be a lot of green lines inside the pine forest which is used for horse riding by the residents, including children, of the Village.
Access to Blue Range from here appears to be by using the presently locked link road from the Village down to Brindabella Road.
Residents of Uriarra Village should be wary of what looks like a co-option of the Villages limited access to local riding places on the edge of the Lower Cotter Catchment.
Equestrians have used Blue Range for many decades for trekking, camping with horses and for running and training for endurance rides. Access to Blue Range only became an issue when the Cotter Dam was raised and most activities, particularly horse riding, in the Cotter catchment were banned.
The ACT Endurance Riders Association has been holding the Brookvale Ride in the Blue Range area for 38 years. While the ride has always started at ‘Brookvale’, just across the border in NSW the trails and elevation of Blue Range in the ACT have been integral to the character of the ride. The flatter terrain of Sherwood and Uriarra Forest is also essential for the shorter rides held in conjunction with the main “Brookvale” ride as well as providing the necessary length of course. The MTB Report has laid claim to several significant management tracks without any consultation with ACTERA.
In its 2014 Memorandum of Understanding with the ACT Equestrian Association the ACT Government agreed to equestrian access to Blue Range outside the Lower Cotter Catchment. To make this happen Parks and Conservation installed a caveletti entrance into the fenced “Sherwood Forest” area, on a purpose made trail off Brindabella Road which the MTB community now proposes to use as a connection from Uriarra Village. With an additional cavaletti access off Mountain Creek Road this is a safe and expansive recreational asset for Canberra riders. In 2017, Parks opened access to equestrians into the larger Uriarra Forest/Blue Range area by modifying gate arrangements at the end of Sherwood nearest to Blue Range Hut, thus enabling riders to access that area via Sherwood, bypassing the Lower Cotter Catchment. A large proportion of this area is now covered with green potential MTB trails and the pink potential link trail extends well into Sherwood, as does the boundary of the proposed ‘recreational trails precinct’ which can probably be interpreted as mountain bike trails area.
This area is an important riding area, not only for endurance riders training and competing but for trekkers and day riders who regularly float their horses to the area.
The Report concludes on page 73 with a recommended management model for the new Best Of Canberra Bike Trails.
The recommended model for governance of the ACT Trail network is one which recognises the existing stakeholder groups and their significant knowledge and expertise on trail development.
It is recommended that a skills-based group be brought together as a Trust or other incorporated body. This group would ensure collaborative leadership in the development of the new trail experiences and assist with the ongoing management and development of the leading and supporting hubs. It will also be instrumental in seeking commercial investment, resources from grant opportunities and through ACT Government budget allocations.
This model would see a greater role for user groups in a partnership with ACT Government. It provides for the land manager to focus on core business (parks and reserves and forestry operations) and remain a partner in the development of the trail network.
In other words the mountain biking community want to police themselves. Given that they want to take over shared use they will potentially be interacting with the other users of ACT public open space and impacting on their capacity to undertake their own chosen activities in safety and enjoyment. This is the equivalent of puting the mouse in charge of the cheese! If there is going to be any stakeholder group in charge of these public trails it should be just that, representative of all the users of all the trails the MTB community is co-opting for their mountain biking network.
ACT Equestrian Association