Stromlo Forest Park has released its Final Master Plan following a consultation period which attracted 7 written submissions and 744 online responses. Written submissions were received from the Canberra Cycling Club, Cycling ACT, Pedal Power ACT, Weston Creek Community Council, the YMCA of Canberra Runners’ Club and the ACT Equestrian Association.
Most respondents were existing park users, 67% using the cycling facilities at the Park. A whopping 66% were living somewhere other than Molonglo Valley or Weston Creek. While only 4% of the Park’s regular users are equestrians there was considerable community support for the inclusion of equestrian trails in the Park, with 47% of those surveyed supporting or strongly supporting the equestrian trails. There were, however, are worrying 19% of respondents who did not support equestrian trails in the Park. Those people have always been there.
One obvious reason for the low number of equestrian users is the fact that horse riders are limited by their ability to transport their animals distances in order to ride. Interestingly, only 34% of cyclists who use the Park live in the Molonglo Valley or Weston Creek reflecting their much greater mobility. The presence of horses in the Park is likely to rise significantly now that Forest Park Riding School has its establishment on the doorstep. This can only be good for arguments for better facilities.
The Master Plan update claims to balance a range of recreation opportunity in a manner sympathetic to the traditional user groups. The Master Plan itself contains matters of some interest to equestrians.
First the good news.
1. The ACT Government has stated it is committed to providing equestrian trails and facilities within the Park and the ACT Urban Area. There are approximately 12 kilometre of equestrian trails within Stromlo with interconnections to produce short cuts and figure eights that could easily create between half hour and two hour rides. The National Capital Plan requires a link, a minimum 70 metres wide, between Stromlo Forest Park and the Arboretum through the suburban developments in the Molonglo Valley. These linkages are to be provided in the form suitable for multiple users (runners/walkers/cyclists/equestrians). The ACT Equestrian Association has been negotiating hard for many years for planning agencies to incorporate as many equestrian trails as possible in the Molonglo Valley and will continue to argue this case vigorously. A number of new trails are proposed to strengthen the existing trail network and to provide better access to the western slopes of the Park.
New equestrian trails are planned to eventually approach the SFP at a number of locations:
- To the north east of the Park at the John Gorton Parkway – this will eventually link to the Arboretum and Equestrian Park. Pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians will pass under the Holdens Creek Bridge, rise over the old Uriarra Road pavement and descend into the Park. Pedestrians and cyclists will be segregated from equestrians, entering the Park on dedicated paths.
- To the south of the Park at a location west of Eucumbene Drive a purpose built horse trail is proposed to remove the need for horse riders to cross Mount Stromlo Road and provide direct access from a proposed camping area to the existing trails in West Stromlo.
- To the north west of the Park from a link along the western edge of Denman up to the Bicentennial National Trail in West Belconnen
2. The Bicentennial National Trail, for many years, traversed the Molonglo Valley and what is now the south-east corner of the Park. Since the development of suburbs began this route has been unavailable to riders and the BNT has been detoured through North Weston Ponds and up Waragamba Avenue in Duffy. ACTEA has negotiated that the future BNT be realigned along the Molonglo River Corridor, passing through to SFP via Holdens Creek Pond pathways and exiting near Eucumbene Drive. This route is shown on the Master Plan map at http://www.stromloforestpark.com.au/images/PDF/Stromlo_Forest_Park_Master_Plan_Map.pdf.
The Park section of the BNT will be specifically designed to cater for safe use by equestrians. Given that the Trail traverses a high use recreational area,there is a commitment to provide adequate landscaping treatment as a visual and acoustic barrier with other multi-use trails, recreational and sporting facilities.
3. The Government has agreed to reinstate the proposed equestrian event campground proposed in the 2010 Master Plan. The campground will be on Stromlo Block 514 which is bounded by the Cotter Road, Stromlo Equestrian Centre and the Mount Stromlo Road where all the tree clearing has gone on recently. This has been an route for entering SFP by a cavaletti on Mount Stromlo Road for many years. The purpose of this campground is to provide basic camping facilities to support equestrian events in the park. ACTEA hopes it will enable more local riders to safely access the Park on a regular basis. ACTEA has consulted with the ACT Endurance Riders Association and the BNT Coordinator and will be looking for a staged development of this site starting with a fenced area, a water trough and an area to park floats. The aim will be to get something on the ground as soon as possible. The Government will also look to create better equestrian linkages between this site and other parts of Stromlo Forest Park.
4. The wretched chairlift/gondola is now situated over the top of the downhill tracj instead of Blue Gums which seems like a fair thing. If this ever happens either private enterprise or the University will have to pay for it.
Now for the less good news
5. SFP expects that, as the Park attracts more patronage, the existing mountain bike network will reach saturation point and will need to expand to cater for more users. The runners are already pressing for greater use of designated equestrian trails. The Master Plan claims that in order to avoid conflict between activities the trails will be designed in such a way that they are attractive and have distinctive character for runners and walkers, mountain bikers and equestrians. It is hard to know what this actually means but it will definitely mean more pressure on designated equestrian trails.
6. The alignment of the 12 kilometre road cycling circuit around pretty much the entire Park now takes more consideration of other users and will be designed to have a minimum number of crossing points with other multi-use trails. There are a couple of sleepers in this statement. The circuit will be bitumen so unusable by horses – indeed we can expect to be banned from it. It will sit on top of the entire designated equestrian track along Uriarra Road from the current front gate to the north west carpark. SFP have undertaken to replace this lost facility with a parallel, more rustic route cut through the forest to the side of the firetrail but this has yet to materialise. In West Stromlo the cycling circuit no longer sits on top of existing fire trails which are frequently used by equestrians but crosses many of them. SFP has promised to design these crossings to maximise safety but nothing will change the fact that horse riders in West Stromlo will have to deal with individual and groups of cyclists travelling at speed with no intention of stopping. The consolation is that such a circuit will be expensive to build and may not eventuate for some time unless the money comes out of the bushfire management budget.
7. The Blue Gums picnic area includes a water trough, tie rails and mounting blocks as well as a toilet block, picnic tables and barbecues. The page devoted to Blue Gums does not even mention equestrian infrastructure or use of the area. Blue Gums is identified as a congregation point for all users of the Park. This is news to ACTEA as the previous General Manager of SFP made a commitment in 2007 that Blue Gums will remain primarily an equestrian designated area, acknowledging that the area may be accessed by family groups from time to time. No regular vehicle access will be allowed to the area. There is thankfully a strong desire to maintain the Blue Gums area in its current form. ACTEA will be taking up this matter with SFP.
8. The ACT Government will continue to work with the different stakeholder groups to ensure that safety through separation is managed appropriately. It is also important that all trail types are able to evolve and change over time to allow new user experiences or to address specific site constraints. There are significant demands from many user groups for new trails in the park and the geographic and spatial constraints make it difficult to accommodate the needs of all users. In some instances, this may necessitate the closure of some trail types at the expense of others. In these instances, the park managers will work with affected user groups to minimise overall impact and to provide alternative offerings where possible. This is a ‘don’t take your eye off the ball’ sentence if ever there was one..
You can access all documentation in regard to the Master Plan at the links below: