Canberra’s recreational trails under threat

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Our recreational trails need better promotion and protection, writes Shane Rattenbury MLA, Greens Member for Kurrajong.

 

One of the unique advantages we have as the “bush capital” is that forest recreation is available on our doorstep. Dedicated volunteer trail builders, as well as the ACT Government, have helped create a great network of recreational trails in and around Canberra. They attract thousands of people every year, who engage in a variety of sports and activities—particularly mountain biking. Sadly, these trails are under threat. The Greens believe that there is enormous economic and social value in these trails, much of which is untapped. That’s why we recently called on the ACT Government to safeguard a successful and viable future for recreational trails in Canberra.

The quality and accessibility of Canberra’s trails has helped spawn a thriving local mountain bike scene, as well as a decent stream of visitors who come here to ride or participate in events. Many people travel from Sydney or Melbourne to ride in Canberra, as you could never get the same experience in those busy cities. International tourists are also attracted by the trails. The Majura Pines Trail Alliance has tracked over 26,000 rides on the Majura Pines trails in a single year. Tracking at Kowen forest has shown similar impressive statistics.

But this recreational trail network is under threat. Recent logging in Kowen Forest has already destroyed 32 mountain bike trails, with further largescale logging scheduled to remove most of the remaining trails. Majura Pines was recently threatened by a logging program that seemed oblivious to its excellent trail network. This network was actually revamped by the ACT Government in 2014, when I was the relevant Minister. Fortunately, community allies managed to negotiate a more sensitive and staggered approach to the logging.  In addition to these logging threats, the current Stromlo master plan proposes the removal of many of Mt Stromlo’s beginner mountain bike trails.

Without a better effort from the ACT Government, the number and quality of Canberra’s trails will be severely reduced. Without a better effort we will certainly miss out on the many emerging opportunities to grow off-road cycling in the ACT, and all the social and economic benefits that it would bring.

The fact that logging occurs in Canberra’s commercial pine plantations—like Kowen and Majura—is no surprise and not a problem in itself. But there must be a better approach that would allow trails and logging to coexist in the long-term. The problem is that the Government sees its pine plantations first and foremost as a logging resource—a resource that supports some recreation. The logging always takes precedence. I believe we can reverse this view and see plantations first as a valuable recreational resource, which also supports some logging.

The economic benefits of this role reversal would be significant, if other jurisdictions that have determined the broader value of their planted forests tell us anything. The recreational value of a planted forest on the fringe of Rotorua in New Zealand is estimated to be $5.2 million annually from walking, and $10.2 million annually from mountain biking. The value of the mountain biking alone is five times the annual timber revenue from that forest. We have to do the same work here in the ACT.

Instead of reducing our recreational trails, or even staying at status quo, we need to protect the trails we have and develop new opportunities for outdoor recreation. We’re in danger of wasting our natural advantages instead of harnessing them. With the right efforts we could become Australia’s biking capital and enjoy the economic opportunities that come with such a reputation. It’s not surprising that we see developers in places like Denman Prospect, Wright and Coombs advertising with mountain biking imagery. It’s a popular sport, and a lot of people appreciate the outdoor lifestyle.

Other parts of Australia are embracing the opportunities cycle tourism brings. Warburton, Mount Bulla, the Snowy Mountains Shire and North East Tasmania are each investing up to $10 million developing mountain bike infrastructure. The $3.1 million investment in mountain biking trails in Derby, Tasmania, has attracted 30,000 visitors on the trails every year, and an estimated $30 million-a-year return.

Here at home, the ACT Government should be identifying new areas where they can collaborate with the community to build recreational trails that will remain as a valued and well managed resource. This can be done in a way that is both environmentally sensitive and still allows people to enjoy activities in the natural environment. There are interesting opportunities for this, such as new parts of Kowen forest, or possibly areas in the Cotter and Uriarra region.

To shine a light on the threat facing our trails and encourage Government action, the Greens last year brought this issue to the ACT Assembly. We called on the ACT Government to preserve existing trails and to properly assess their broader social and economic value. To avoid situations like the one currently occurring in Kowen, we asked the Government to find new areas for recreational trails and implement quality plans for their management and preservation. We also asked for a forward-looking cycling strategy covering both mountain and road biking. While we’re pleased that the Government’s recent formal response commits to work across each of the areas we identified, there is clearly more to do.

Canberra is Australia’s most active capital city, the healthiest city, and recently declared one of the world’s most liveable cities. Recreational cycling trails are an important but often overlooked factor contributing to these outcomes. It will take ongoing advocacy to ensure our trails are properly valued, protected and promoted, so if this is an issue you want to see the ACT Government prioritise, be sure to contact them.

If you’d like a copy of the ACT Government response to the resolution on recreational trails, please contact rattenbury@act.gov.au

 

Article as published in the Leaderboard column of the April 2018 edition of Pedal Power's Canberra Cyclist magazine. 

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