Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Strategy

The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and Wollongong City Council are preparing the Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Strategy in response to the need for better management of mountain bike use of the escarpment.

The demands and impacts of mountain biking on both legal and illegal trails on the escarpment are increasing. Many trails provide a good riding experience, but their condition and sustainability vary greatly. The adverse safety, environmental and cultural impacts of illegal use and ad hoc trail development need to be addressed to ensure the activity is sustainable into the future.

National Parks and Wildlife Service and Wollongong City Council developed the draft strategy from a mountain bike concept plan prepared by Dirt Art, a company who specialises in mountain bike trail design. Environmental data, field investigations, a preliminary cultural heritage assessment and information from mountain bike riders and other stakeholders was also used.

The primary emphasis of the draft strategy is providing safe, sustainable recreation for a broad range of riders. The draft strategy identified a potential mountain bike trail network of 82 kilometres on the escarpment.

Public exhibition process

The draft strategy was on public exhibition from 30 October 2018 to 21 December 2018 and provided the community with the opportunity to have their say on mountain biking on the Illawarra Escarpment.

A total of 956 submissions were received from a broad range of stakeholders, including NSW Government, non-government organisations and private individuals.

The high volume and varied sources of the submissions confirm a high level of interest in the proposal and divided views on best location of trails.

Overview of public exhibition responses

National Parks and Wildlife Service and Wollongong City Council reviewed all submissions. The submissions addressed a wide range of issues that have been summarised under 6 key themes.

  1. Development of the draft strategy
  2. Trail network and scale of proposal
  3. Infrastructure and services
  4. Impact on the community
  5. Environmental and cultural heritage impacts
  6. Future management

Documents

Concept Plan - Mountain Bike Network - Illawarra Escarpment

Based on the public feedback received on the draft Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Strategy, National Parks and Wildlife Service engaged a contractor to develop a concept plan for the mountain bike network between Mount Keira and Mount Kembla that excludes Mount Keira given its significance to the Aboriginal community.

The concept plan identifies a total network of 61 trails, delivering a trail volume of 44 kilometres. The concept follows International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) track standards for design, construction and maintenance.

The network caters for all rider skill levels and a broad range of riding styles. Stacked loops of increasing length and difficulty and highly variable terrain and technical features, such as steep descents, obstacles, bridges and jump lines, are part of the proposed network.

The network also crosses several different land tenures, necessitating the ongoing support of Wollongong City Council and other land management agencies in having mountain bike trails on their land.

The concept plan does not represent the final design of the trail network that is subject to a planning assessment that may refine or change the track locations to reduce the environmental, cultural and social impacts.

National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has started a comprehensive and detailed environmental assessment to determine the impact of the proposed mountain bike network as outline in the concept plan. Activities within NPWS reserves are assessed under Part 5 of the NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.

The planning assessment will include an environmental, cultural heritage and social impact assessment that forms a Review of Environmental Factors report. The Review of Environmental Factors with the final design of the mountain bike network will go out on public exhibition for comment later in the year.

The NSW Government is committed to finding a solution for a suitable mountain bike trail network that protects the environmental and cultural values of the Illawarra Escarpment and provides riding opportunities for mountain bike riders. In June 2021, the NSW Government announced funding to pay for the planning assessments and if they support the project, the funding will also pay for the development of the mountain bike network. The final strategy will not include mountain bike riding on Mount Keira, given the cultural significance of the mountain to the Aboriginal community.

The proposed mountain bike trail network between Mount Keira and Mount Kembla outlined in the concept plan will form part of the finalised mountain bike strategy if the planning assessments are supportive. It is expected that other areas identified for mountain bike riding in the draft strategy will also be investigated further to determine if they should be included in the final strategy.

National Parks and Wildlife Service will continue to engage with stakeholders to finalise the mountain bike strategy.

National Parks and Wildlife Service and Wollongong City Council have established the Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Advisory Group. The group's purpose is to identify issues and opportunities, enable consistent collaboration with key stakeholders, provide a channel for community input, ensure project objectives are met, and ensure timely and effective information exchange between stakeholder organisations, the local community, National Parks and Wildlife Service and council.

Membership of the group reflects a broad range of business, risk and technical skills to provide advice on the planning assessment and strategy. Aboriginal stakeholders are also represented in this group.

If the planning assessments support the mountain bike network between Mount Keira and Mount Kembla, the next step is the development of a framework (operating framework) setting out how to develop and operate the mountain bike trail network across different land tenures (national parks, local government land and possibly other land). This will include how to best to address public risk, maintain assets, conduct trail maintenance and how the will parties work together.

Mountain bike riders Moama Five Mile picnic area Murray Valley Regional Park a dog friendly parkThe Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Advisory Group

Membership includes National Parks and Wildlife Service, Wollongong City Council, Illawarra Local Aboriginal Land Council, Destination Wollongong, Destination Sydney Surround South, Office of Sport, Water NSW, Illawarra Escarpment Alliance, National Parks Association, Illawarra Mountain Bike Alliance, Trail Care and Sydney Water.

Involving Aboriginal people in the process

A representative of the Illawarra Local Aboriginal Land Council is on the Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Advisory Group. We have engaged the Aboriginal community in the cultural heritage assessment of the proposed mountain bike network between Mount Keira and Mount Kembla.

Will the mountain bike network include Mount Keira?

Mountain biking on Mount Keira is not appropriate given the cultural significance of the mountain to the Aboriginal community. We have identified a network between Mount Keira and Mount Kembla as an alternative option to Mount Keira.

When can we expect works to start to develop a mountain bike trial network?

The planning assessments, the draft Review of Environmental Factors will go out on public exhibition for comment in late 2021. If the proposal is supported, it is expected construction of the mountain bike network between Mount Kiera and Mount Kembla will start in the first half of 2022.

Managing the mountain bike trail network

The governance arrangements and roles of National Parks and Wildlife Service and Wollongong City Council in managing the trail network have not been determined. National Parks and Wildlife Service and Wollongong City Council are exploring all options, including ways to involve mountain bike organisations, local businesses and riders in trail management and compliance.

Making sure cyclists stay on the tracks

Responsible social behaviour will be promoted through signage, education and partnering with stakeholders representing mountain bike riders to develop a positive culture of doing the right thing.

What will happen to the existing tracks that are not proposed to be part of the mountain bike strategy?

Over time, all existing illegally constructed mountain bike tracks that are not required, or not suitable, for the mountain bike track network in the strategy will be closed and rehabilitated.

July update

It is now time to reach out and reconnect with our neighbours, park users, stakeholders, local communities and the wider community to provide updates as the project develops.

  • 25 Jul 2021

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