Mountain Bike Feasibility Study

Mountain Bike Feasibility Study

Mountain Bike Feasibility Study
Consultation for this project has now concluded.

With participation in mountain bike (MTB) riding as both a sport and a recreational activity increasing, and demand for suitable areas to ride growing, it is important to plan ahead in a sustainable way. Mountain biking also has the potential to provide tourism opportunities and economic development.

While Council provides for MTB riding on designated fire and management trails in some of its natural reserves, a number of unauthorised trails have also been constructed. The construction of unauthorised MTB trails poses environmental, heritage and reputational risk to Council in terms of legislation, community expectations and the experience of other reserve users. Unauthorised MTB trails may also pose a risk to riders where construction is poor or where the level of difficulty is unknown to the rider.

There is currently no strategic framework for managing the rapidly increasing demand for mountain biking across the Central Coast. In light of this, we’re undertaking a Mountain Bike Feasibility Study, to gather some of the information required to inform a strategic framework.

By identifying the role that Council’s natural reserves may play in the provision of mountain biking experiences across the Central Coast, Council will be better able to protect areas of high conservation and heritage value, minimise the key drivers for the building of unauthorised trail construction and maximise the safe use of Council reserves by all visitors.
 

What you have told us so far

Between 5 June to 2 July 2019 we carried out initial public consultation to inform the feasibility study. We received 1949 survey responses and 25 targeted stakeholders attended at two face-to-face focus groups. We encouraged everyone to respond to the survey, including all community members and visitors, MTB riders, environmentalists and nature reserve users. A detailed review of the feedback we received is presented in the engagement report. This consultation helped us to understand community views, demand, utilisation, opportunities and risks for mountain biking on the Central Coast.

We recognise there are different views within the community on how to respond to the demand for mountain biking on the Central Coast, and there are also some are areas of agreement.

  • 95% of survey respondents support (agree or strongly agree) continuing to allow MTBing where currently allowed (on some existing fire trails as shared use)
  • 87% of survey respondents are concerned about lack of authorised trails for MTBing
  • 75% of survey respondents are concerned about lack of clarity regarding which trails are authorised
  • 52% of survey respondents are concerned about construction of unauthorised MTB trails

Discussion paper

The Mountain Bike Feasibility Study Discussion Paper and Engagement Report present the findings of the feasibility study initiated by Central Coast Council in 2019. The Discussion Paper was informed by what the community and stakeholders told us during the first round of consultation.

Before making a submission on the Discussion Paper, we strongly recommend:

This will ensure your feedback is relevant for this stage of the consultation process.

Got a question?

  • We hosted drop-in information sessions to discuss the discussion paper with project officers in a virtual meeting
  • A submit a questions tool was available for you to send in your questions and we responded to them on this page (scroll down to see what has already been submitted).

Have your say

We want to capture the community’s feedback on the Discussion Paper and identify if there is any consensus on the options or recommendations before making any further recommendations to Council. You can provide feedback:

  • via the online submission form (now closed)
  • by sending your submission via email

Submissions were accepted between 22 February 2021 and 22 March 2021.

When providing feedback to Council your attention is drawn to the provisions of the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 which allows for possible access to certain public and personal documentation. View our privacy statement.

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Report summary of community consultation to Council
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Who's listening
Name
Sharyn Styman, Environmental Officer

Frequently asked questions

What is a feasibility study?

A feasibility study is an assessment of whether a project is viable or not. Specifically for this project, it is to understand the feasibility of providing MTB trails and riding opportunities within the Central Coast region that are safe for users of the natural reserve and MTB riders – all while protecting areas of high conservation and heritage value and minimising the key drivers for the building of unauthorised trail construction.

Why is Council undertaking a feasibility study for mountain biking?

MTB riding is a growing sport. Participation in the activity as nature-based recreation is increasing and demand for suitable areas to ride is also growing.  Many riders are looking for forest trails and natural areas to ride through in the same way residents seek bushwalking opportunities.

While Council provides for MTB riding on fire and management trail systems in its natural reserves, a number of unauthorised trails have also been constructed in some reserves. The construction of unauthorised MTB trails poses environmental and reputational risk to Council in terms of legislation, community expectations and the experience of other reserve users.  Unauthorised MTB trails may also pose a risk to riders where construction is poor or where the level of difficulty is unknown to the rider.

With rising demand for this recreation activity it is important to plan ahead for provision in a sustainable way that not only protects sensitive areas, but also provides new opportunities for the community and enhances nature-based tourism in the region. Many councils are planning and providing MTB trails to meet community needs and, in some cases to expand the tourism appeal of their region. MTB-based tourism can bring a new market, one that is focused on nature-based recreation and that values protection of the natural environment.

MTB riders involve a broad section of the community including many families, young people and adults, and as such, there are a number of MTB riding opportunities sought including: descent trails, cross country riding and skills. The majority of demand is recreational, but there are also club-based competitions and skill development that require specific tracks.

What is the aim of the feasibility study?

The aims of the Mountain Biking Feasibility Study are to assist in planning for recreation in Council’s natural reserves by:

  • Identifying the role that Council’s natural reserves may play in the provision of mountain biking experiences across the Central Coast
  • Protecting areas of high conservation and heritage value
  • Minimising the key drivers for the building of unauthorised trails
  • Maximising the safe use of Council reserves by all visitors

Please note that this project relates to MTB riding and does not include trail bikes, motorbikes etc.

What is a discussion paper?

This Discussion Paper presents the findings of Mountain Bike Feasibility Study and is intended to support an informed conversation with the community on topics including:

  1. Key concerns and issues toward mountain biking 
  2. Selecting suitable sites 
  3. Options for managing demand for mountain biking on the Central Coast 

The Discussion Paper and the community’s feedback will inform Council’s future planning for recreation in Council’s natural reserves.

What are the next steps in the feasibility study?

A report will go to Council in mid 2021 presenting the outcomes of the community consultation on the Discussion Paper, including a Consultation Report. The Discussion Paper, Engagement Report and Consultation Report will inform the final recommendations made in the report to Council in relation to the provision for and management of mountain biking trails in Council’s natural reserves.

Community questions

This is a huge expenditure of council funds, employing Otium "Otium Planning Group provides consultancy services in planning, facility development, management and funding for the sport, recreation and leisure industries"(from their website, NOTE 'industries'and a group called World Trails whose business is building trails! Seems a rather biased choice to write a discussion paper...why was there no COSS or environment protection business included in the development of the discussion paper?

[Date received 23.2.21]
 

The feasibility study gathered information on the supply and demand for mountain biking on the Central Coast and explored the opportunities and risks for managing the demand. This information has not been previously collated. Council sought the services of consultants who had expertise in community engagement and recreation planning, in particular those with experience relevant to mountain biking.

Section 5.11 of the discussion paper provides a brief overview of the impact of mountain biking on the environment based on published literature. Chapter 9 presents the site selection criteria and in this chapter it is noted that for any sites considered suitable for mountain biking, detailed assessment is required to determine if a trail network could be established given constraints around environmental and cultural heritage considerations. If Council resolves to undertake further planning into potential sites for investigation, there are environmental and heritage data sets available to undertake a constraints analysis.
 

I have read the discussion paper and can’t pin point how many mountain bike riders there actually are? neither resident here nor potential users. How did an apparently "unknown” number of people get such a huge enquiry underway? How many requests does council need to pursue an issue in such depth? 

[Date received 23.2.21]
 

The number of mountain bike riders that live on the Central Coast, or that may visit the Central Coast, has not been estimated by the Study. Indicators that could be used would be the use of Council reserves and National Parks for mountain biking, club membership, or bike sales.

There were three drivers that led Council to complete a Mountain Bike Feasibility Study:

  1. The increasing community concern about the environmental and heritage damage of unauthorised trails.

    The construction of unauthorised mountain bike trails is a significant management issue for Council. Despite ongoing investment of time and resources to manage the issue, the construction of trails and the associated impacts have continued to increase. Council staff identified that additional information was needed to inform future planning and land management decisions, such as an understanding of the drivers for the construction of unauthorised trails and case studies.
     
  2. Requests to explore the tourism and associated economic development opportunities that mountain biking could provide across the Central Coast 

    These requests arose during the delivery of two Council endorsed plans:

    - Initially the Central Coast Destination Management Plan 2018-2021 action 2.2 Develop a business case for new mountain bike trails to attract a world class event to the Central Coast with the partners being Council and NPWS and timing 2018/19 

    - Followed on by the Central Coast Tourism Opportunity Plan 2019-2024 that included investment opportunities for Open Space ‘Soft Adventure Cluster (Simulated Wave Park / National Surf Reserve / Mountain Biking trails upgrade’.
     
  3. Requests from the local community to address the undersupply of authorised trails

    There was a high response rate to the survey in 2019 and strong demand expressed by the community for locally accessible and regional level trail networks. The findings are presented in the Engagement Report.

    There is currently no strategic framework for the planning and management of mountain biking on the Central Coast. The Mountain Bike Feasibility Study is the first step in gathering information to inform future decision making.  

Wildlife ecologist should be asked to study and disclose the impacts of (1) fast-moving bikes, (2) trail density (miles of trails - including unauthorised trails per acre) disturbance caused to nesting birds, ground-dwelling animals, foraging wildlife, and overall impacts to the well-being of all wildlife (small and large). 

[Date received 28.2.21]

Trails can be designed to avoid particular fauna habitat or to reduce the speed that a mountain bike travels through an area. For example, bikes will travel faster along a trail that runs directly down slope compared to a trail that meanders across the slope with frequent corners. As such a trail could be designed to reduce the risk of collision with wildlife. The environmental assessment completed at the concept and detailed design stages would address such considerations.

A study into the impacts of trail density (including unauthorised trails per acre) on native fauna behaviour and population viability would be best undertaken in partnership with a research institution. Council will consider this suggestion.
 

Given there are so many unauthorized trails -- as long as you allow bike usage in this area, how will you stop the rogue/unauthorized trail building from continuing?

[Date received 28.2.21]

The feasibility study concluded that there are insufficient authorised trails to meet the demand for mountain biking on the Central Coast. The combination of unmet demand and a desire for locally accessible trails has meant that a number of unauthorised trails have been built.

The community engagement findings indicated that there is substantial support for collaboration on future provision with user groups able to develop and maintain trails. 

If new trails in suitable locations are developed to cater to the demand, then increased enforcement can be pursued for any unauthorised trails developed. Also, if trail closure is undertaken in partnership with local mountain bike clubs and users, the reasons for closure can be understood and there may be more support for the remediation work. There is also the potential for self-policing by rider groups, if a majority of riders are engaged and support the approach.
 

Has any thought been given to the wallabies at present in the COSS system, especially on Kincumba Mountain.  Their habitat is threatened and night riders disturb their peace.  In a 2009 essay in The Monthly Tim Flannery observed that populations of wallabies had declined by 90 per cent, with the remainder poorly studied so we have no idea how endangered they are.  The spread of trails involving tree removal, bush rock removal, cutting of tree roots, stockpiling of dead wood is detrimental to the small existing population of rare wallabies. 

[Date received 4.3.21]

Night riding is not currently expressly authorised by Council in natural reserves.
The impact of night riding on Australian nocturnal fauna is not well understood. If this style of riding were to be considered in the future, further research and an environmental impact assessment at a site scale would be warranted.

The total of unsanctioned mountain bike trails listed in the discussion paper is 38km. However, it also states that unsanctioned trails are known to exist at Blackwall Mountain, Bradley's Reserve, Brisbane Water NP, Davistown Rd Bushland, Katandra Reserve, Munmorah State Conservation Area, Mt Alison, Pixie Avenue, Rumbalara and Wambina. Does Council have an approximate idea of the total length of unauthorised trails combined and how and when will those trails be closed and remediated?

[Date received 3.3.21]

Council does not currently have sufficient information to estimate the total length of unauthorised mountain bike trails across the Central Coast. Information volunteered by riders on the internet can be used to identify locations where riding is occurring and estimate the length of trail. A comprehensive review of such information has not been undertaken for the Central Coast. Length of trail can also be determined through trail audits, although this is labour intensive.
Unauthorised trails can be closed by removing any unauthorised structures, installing signage, installing physical barriers (such as fencing) then mulching, revegetating or ‘brushmatting’ exposed soil. If trails are provided in suitable locations that cater to the demand, then increased enforcement can be pursued for any ongoing unauthorised trail construction. Also, if trail closure is undertaken in partnership with local mountain bike clubs and users, the reasons for closure can be understood and there may be more support for the remediation work. There is also the potential for self-policing by rider groups, if a majority of riders are engaged and support the approach. 
Planning and prioritisation of unauthorised trail closure and remediation involves a number of considerations including tenure, existing Plans of Management and any legal agreements, significance of the impacts occurring, community benefit of remediation, cost of remediation and available resources. Council has and will continue to close and remediate trails in light of these considerations within available budgets and resources.

How much attention is given to the care of the habitats and to the erosion possibly caused by the use of these trails as they lose their natural leaf cover?

[Date received 6.3.21]

Trails can be designed to avoid particular habitats or landscape features that are identified during the environmental and heritage assessment. The significance of the residual impacts and suitable mitigation measures are best considered as part of the environmental assessment completed at the detailed design stage at a site scale.

Trails (both walking and mountain bike riding) can be designed to reduce soil erosion and sedimentation through features such as rock armouring and bridges. During construction, trails can be shaped to sheet water off the trail rather than allowing water to run along the trail or pool which causes substantial erosion and trail widening. Erosion caused by the use of trails can be further reduced through rider experience (reduced braking) and codes of conduct (such as no riding when the track is wet). There are also options for managing the use of trails through opening and closing sections. 

In the submission response to the feasibility study, none of the options actually cover what mountain bikers really want or need. Why is there no mention of dedicated mountain bike trails that are comprised of singletrack?  Is council aware that mountain bikers are only really interested in singletrack in natural areas? Is council aware any strategy that is comprised of shared use trails or management trails will fail? Is council aware that more than 90% of legal trails in NSW have been adopted from unsanctioned trails?
[Question received 14.3.21]

One of the options presented in the Discussion Paper is development of a regional trails plan that would identify suitable sites for new shared trails, urban bike parks and local or regional flow trails. Another option includes expansion and enhancement of the shared trail network. The first recommendation in the Discussion Paper offered for Council’s consideration is to undertake a detailed trails audit and trail management that includes ‘…any single use (MTB) trails that can be sustained’. While the language may vary, it is considered that dedicated mountain bike trails comprised of single track in natural areas has been identified in the options and recommendations. The community are encouraged to provide any comments they have on these options and recommendations, including ranking in order of importance, in their online submission.

Prior to undertaking the Study, Council did not have a good understanding of the preference of mountain bikers, such as single track or fire trails, and natural setting or open space. The response to the initial community survey provided data on the preferences and needs of mountain bikers.

The Discussion Paper presents several case studies where informal/unsanctioned trails have been authorised and the process taken, such as Glenrock State Conservation Area. 

Why does the Council feasibility study goals seem to only focus on the environmental aspects of mountain biking? There are stark differences between councils language from the skate park strategy. An excerpt from the Council Skate strategy reads: 

'Activation of skateparks and BMX facilities is a growing trend that makes these facilities more accessible to the broader community. This along with the emergence of skateboarding at an Olympic level will offer economic benefits from skate based tourism and further increase demand for this type of facility within the LGA’    

Replace skateboarding with mountain biking and you have a great position statement.    Council should consider changing from a negative/ punitive stance. A positive focus would have better chance of engaging mountain bikers and providing outcomes that better meet community need. If the goal statement had read:    

“Council wishes to enable mountain bikers to ride sanctioned appropriate sustainable singletrack in a natural setting”  

You would achieve similar goals and better outcomes framed in a far more positive way.  

[Question received 14.3.21]

Skate parks are a type of recreational infrastructure that Council has provided for many years in multiple locations to meet the needs of our community. The scope of Council’s Skatepark Action Plan 2020 is skateparks in Council owned or managed public parks and reserves. Such land is generally zoned, dedicated/reserved and managed for the purpose of public recreation. Skateparks are able to be planned and established in locations which do not have environmental and heritage values or the potential for conflicting uses.   

In comparison, purpose-built mountain bike trails have not been previously provided by Central Coast Council. The values and use of the land that the Mountain Bike Feasibility Study considers is more complex than that of other recreation facilities, as it predominantly relates to land zoned, dedicated/reserved and managed for conservation. Conservation reserves are established where the land has biodiversity values existing naturally and retaining those values is the primary purpose of management.  

Where passive recreation opportunities are provided in conservation reserves, the potential for recreation to impact on the values of the reserve needs to be avoided or mitigated. Additional complexity occurs where the features of conservation reserves which have resulted in naturally high biodiversity values are also the locations preferred for recreation use.  For example, the diversity of slope and aspect may make a conservation reserve attractive for mountain biking, however this diversity of slope and aspect can also be one of the factors contributing to high levels of biodiversity. Similarly, Aboriginal heritage sites may be located where unauthorised trial use indicates that mountain bikers want to ride. Whether or not mountain biking can be sustainable in the natural settings owned or managed by Council requires further research.

The aim of the Mountain Bike Feasibility Study included ‘Identify the role that Council’s natural reserves may play in the provision of mountain bike experiences across the Central Coast’. Prior to undertaking the Study, Council did not have a good understanding of the preference of mountain bikers, such as single track or fire trails, and natural setting or open space. Furthermore, prior to analysing the current supply, demand and feasibility of opportunities on Council land, it was unknown if Council could accommodate the experience that riders seek on land it owns or manages. For these reasons, Council did not pre-empt the outcome of the study when setting the aim.
 

Why has so much council owned land that is suitable for MTB been excluded from an future consideration/planning?

[Question received 14.3.21]

The Discussion Paper presents site selection criteria derived from the MTBA Australian Mountain Bike Trail Guidelines, as well as general trail planning, design and construction principles. The criteria were applied to each of the mountain biking locations identified on the Central Coast to determine the most suitable locations for mountain bike trails or networks. Locations were then categorised into four rating types: Local, Regional, National or Excluded. 

The criteria for a local significance trail network include a minimum site area of >250 ha. This minimum land area was considered, by the consultants, to be the minimum necessary to accommodate a trail network of up to 20 km. Any locations with an area less than 250 ha were categorised as ‘Excluded’.
In addition to the local demand for mountain biking, the Central Coast has the potential for a MTB based tourism industry.  Consideration was therefore given to sites that could accommodate local, regional and national mountain bike trails.   

Through the online submission form Council has asked for feedback from the community on the site selection criteria and how they have been applied. We would like to hear from the community if any of the criteria are not relevant to the Central Coast, if there should be additional criteria, or if there are comments on how they have been applied. We encourage the community to provide examples in their submission of land they believe to be suitable for a local trail network that has been excluded and why/how it may be suitable.
 

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