Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Project

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service is working to plan and deliver sustainable mountain bike trail networks in the Illawarra Escarpment near Mount Kembla and Balgownie.

Since 2015 National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) have been working with Wollongong City Council (Council) and other stakeholders to provide a sustainable mountain bike trail network that protects the environmental and cultural values of the Illawarra Escarpment and provides riding opportunities for mountain bike riders.

The demands and impacts of mountain biking on the Illawarra Escarpment continue to increase. Many trails provide a good riding experience, but their condition, safety and sustainability vary greatly. The safety, environmental and cultural impacts of mountain bike trails and ad hoc trail development need to be addressed to ensure the activity is sustainable on the Illawarra Escarpment into the future.

In 2018 an initial concept plan followed by the Draft Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Strategy sought to address the need for sustainable mountain biking at Balgownie, Mount Keira and Mount Kembla. Public feedback on the strategy suggested that there needed to be greater consideration given to natural and cultural values and in particular to remove mountain bike trails from Mount Keira.

In 2020, a revised network in the Mount Kembla area, was developed that excluded Mount Keira. In June 2021, the Government announced funding for the Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Network that will enable NPWS to complete planning and assessment, finalise the Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Strategy and commence on-ground works.

In June 2022 NPWS exhibited the Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Project: draft review of environmental factors (draft REF) for the proposed mountain bike network between Harry Graham Drive near O’Brien’s Drift and Mount Kembla.

Draft Review of Environmental Factors

NPWS engaged consultants Niche Environment and Heritage to develop the draft REF for the 50 km mountain bike network between Harry Graham Drive near O’Brien's Drift and Mount Kembla.

The draft REF was exhibited for public comment from Monday 20 June to Monday 18 July 2022. The information gathered during exhibition is being analysed and considered to inform the final REF.

Activities within NPWS reserves are assessed under Part 5 of the NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.

The REF assesses the mountain bike network on both NPWS land and other land tenure to enable cumulative impacts of the proposal to be assessed. However, an approved REF only permits activities on NPWS land and other landholders will need to gain separate approvals.

Proposed mountain bike network, O'Brien's Drift to Mount Kembla, Illawarra Escarpment

 

National Parks and Wildlife Service and Wollongong City Council developed the Draft Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Strategy (draft strategy) in 2018. The draft strategy considers environmental data, field investigations, a preliminary cultural heritage assessment, information from mountain bike riders and other stakeholders.

The draft strategy proposed safe, sustainable recreation for a broad range of riders and was on public exhibition from 30 October 2018 to 21 December 2018. A total of 956 submissions were received from a broad range of stakeholders, including NSW Government, non-government organisations and private individuals.

The Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Strategy Public Exhibition Report summarises the feedback received.


Based on the public feedback received on the Draft Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Strategy (draft strategy), National Parks and Wildlife Service engaged consultant Synergy Trails to develop a concept plan that identified a revised mountain bike network in the Mount Kembla area. The proposed network excluded Mount Keira given its cultural significance, geological instability and high natural conservation values.

The Mount Kembla area network identified a network of 61 trails between Harry Graham Drive near O'Briens Drift and Mount Kembla and a like-for-like experience to existing informal trails.

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 Mount Kembla area network is stage one of the draft strategy and the final design is subject to the assessment of the Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Project: draft review of environmental factors.

Stage two of the Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Strategy is a proposed network in the Balgownie area. Planning for this stage is currently underway and will follow a similar process to stage one.

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

NPWS and Wollongong City Council (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, NPWS 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.

Consultation with the Aboriginal community is ongoing to ensure their views in planning and assessment are considered in developing an appropriate and sustainable mountain bike trail network on the Illawarra Escarpment.

Council will continue to engage with stakeholders to inform project planning, assessment and establishment of ‘off park’ infrastructure required to support the mountain bike trail network such as parking and amenities.

The Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Project: draft review of environmental factors (draft REF) public exhibition period ended on 18 July 2022. A submissions report is being prepared and amendments made to the draft REF before submission for independent approval.

Planning for stage two of the network, in the Balgownie area, is continuing and the draft REF will be publicly exhibited when completed.

The Mount Kembla area and Balgownie networks will then inform the amendments to finalise the Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Strategy. The strategy will also include an operating framework model.

The operating framework will consider how all parties can continue to work together to address public risk, rehabilitate trails outside of the authorised network and conduct ongoing maintenance.

National Parks and Wildlife Service is currently preparing a plan to close and rehabilitate unsanctioned trails not included in the strategy’s network. The plan will identify a staged approach to closing and rehabilitating trails including the removal of structures, revegetation, erosion control work and a monitoring program.

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 (NPWS), Wollongong City Council (Council), Illawarra Local Aboriginal Land Council, Destination Wollongong, Destination Sydney Surround South, Office of Sport, Water NSW, Sydney Water, Illawarra Escarpment Alliance, National Parks Association, Illawarra Mountain Bike Alliance, Trail Care and a community representative from Mount Kembla. 

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 Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Project: draft review of environmental factors and the proposed mountain bike network between Harry Graham Drive near O'Brien's Drift and Mount Kembla. The involvement of the Aboriginal community will continue throughout the mountain bike project.

Will the mountain bike network include Mount Keira?

Mountain biking on Mount Keira is not appropriate given the cultural significance, geological instability and high natural conservation values. We have identified a network south of Mount Keira to the Mount Kembla area as an alternative option to Mount Keira.

Managing the mountain bike trail network

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

How is the network going to be sustainable?

The process of developing a sustainable mountain bike network considers the experience of riders, visitor safety, working with the natural and cultural features of the landscape to best manage water runoff, minimise erosion, protect and conserve the natural environment and cultural sites. In some areas, it may be necessary to install features such as bridges, raised platforms, rock armouring and stonework, similar to walking track construction.

A well-designed and built mountain bike trail network can reduce the ongoing cost and resources necessary for land managers to maintain a safe and enjoyable experience for riders.

NPWS exhibited the Draft Cycling Strategy and Cycling Policy: consultation draft. Once finalised and adopted, these documents will guide how NPWS manages cycling experiences in our reserves. Until then, the Cycling Policy and Sustainable Mountain Bike Strategy underpin our approach to providing sustainable mountain bike tracks and trails.

Making sure cyclists stay on the trails

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. This will include signage and information on the Aboriginal cultural significance of the area.

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

Over time, all existing unauthorised mountain bike trails that are not formalised into the mountain bike trail network in the strategy will be closed and rehabilitated. The Rehabilitation Plan will provide detail on how this will be done.

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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