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A little perspective

Rob's picture

By Rob - Posted on 15 October 2010

NB: Originally posted elsewhere on the Global Riders Network and appears via syndication.

With all the talk of the current NPWS Discussion Paper I was thinking this morning about what bike riders are actually asking for.

Bike riders just want a few bike tracks that will give them some sort of meaningful experience inside a National Park or two. You know - a few nice loops with a variety of terrain to keep things interesting, through nice bushland with nice views. Is that much to ask? It appears some people think so, so how can we persuade them otherwise?

So forget about what bike riders want for a second and let's have a look at what tourists in general have by way of access. Let's take one of the most popular parks in the North of Sydney as an example - Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park (KCNP).

Using figures from the department[1] we can see that KCNP is 14,978ha. That's almost 150 square kilometres or 1.7 times the size of the area of Manhattan (USA).

However, in the grand scheme of NSW National Parks this is a drop in the ocean. The total parks area, from their table, is 5,590,802ha or over 55,000 square kilometres. This is 2.7 times the area of Wales! That's old Wales in the UK, not NSW Eye-wink

From this we see KCNP is 0.27% of the total park area in NSW - pretty tiny.

Anyhow, I started by saying we should look at what other visitors get in that park and figured road access would be a good one. Yes, yes, cars are nasty polluting machines, but a lot of visitors and tourists wouldn't be able to enjoy the park without driving there so they are a necessary evil, right? Forget about the area for picnic tables and lookouts and toilet facilities and parking. Mainly as they are too hard for me to get Eye-wink Let's just add up the sealed roads in KCNP (that's West Head Road, McCarrs Creek Rd, Coal & Candle Drive, Cottage Point, Ku-Ring-Gai Chase Rd, etc) I found there was 45.8km of the stuff.

Assuming sealed roads consist of two, 3 metre lanes with a 1 metre shoulder each side that's 366,400 square metres or 36.64ha. Sounds bad, but not really.

The total area of sealed road in KCNP is 0.24% of the total area of that park - pretty tiny.

To illustrate the above example, take a look at the attached graphic.

All that said, you'd think that any conservationist wouldn't begrudge a bike rider the same sort of facility a road user gets would you? So let's figure this out... say bike riders could get a few kilometres of single track. Assume the trail corridor is 2m wide even though the actual trail will be closer to 50-100cm in width. You could build 183km on the same area as there are currently sealed roads.

Don't forget though - bike riders aren't even asking that all the trails provided are single use. Many users would benefit from any provided trails as many would be mixed use.

Guess the question is - why would anyone object to a bike rider being given off road facilities in a National Park equal to the roads that exist? Are they saying the motor vehicle is a more worthy use of the park?!

I know this example is simple and it's only about one specific park, but tell you what - if we got saw even half of that 183km of trail in KCNP I'd be ecstatic!


ben.archer's picture

Rob, that is a great and compelling argument, however the more you look through the stated opinion of those most vehemently opposed to greater access the more you see there is little logic to their arguments and that they are typically repeating the same ill informed bigoted views. A classic case in point is the current discussion about Trails Bikes / Motor Bikes where we are lumped into the same category for noise, pollution, erosion and the potential safety issues when trails are shared.

Matt_B's picture

Let alone taking the area of the road, and Kuringai already has a network frame with the fire roads that could be linked, extended.....there are those entrenched views - wilderness is for walkers/ I want the experience at the expense of everyone else

Rob's picture

@Ben... thanks for the support.

Yeah - it is a constant frustration about the confusion between motor bikes and mountain bikes, see recent discussion. I'm sure most of it is not malicious and simply that these people don't know the difference. Perfect example of this was a lady who got up to speak out about 'Mountain Bikes' at the LCNP forum last year (I think that was the one). She disliked the screaming noise the bikes made. When she was told that those noisy things are actually motorbikes and not the recreation in question it turned out that she had no issue at all.

That said, I'm also sure that some are deliberately lumping the two together like you say to cause confusion and try and get mountain bikes painted with the same brush as those with motors.

Hopefully people can read the evidence, educate themselves and make their own minds up.

sean_c's picture

I can see where you're coming from, but I'm not sure it's a great argument really. Just saying "it's not fair" isn't addressing any of the issues, such as conservation. I'm all for more access to NPs but I wouldn't want anyone to carve 45.8kms of singletrack through KCNP, it would have a big conservation impact. Although it would be mega-cool to ride Smiling

The impact of roads isn't the area they take but that they divide up native animal's habitat, and give access to weeds and feral animals. I've just come back from Kosciuszko and the amount of roadkill was pretty shocking. Obviously a singletrack isn't going to result in any wombats being run over but it must cause some issues. National Parks are there because they're significant natural areas, and the amazing thing about KCNP is that it's almost pristine bush so close to Sydney. Once you put access in it takes that away somewhat, and once it's gone it's gone. So I think the current slow and careful approach is really quite good.

I know you're not really arguing for equal area for mtb and car access, or even equal length of trail; and in reality we'd probably all be happy with a few sections of singletrack linking the trails that are already there. I just think that although this is an interesting observation, it's not an argument that's going to stack up when trying to persuade the doubters.

Rob's picture

For an interesting (read: comical) look at park facilities have a look here. Firstly, KCNP mountain bike information:

They have one route listed which is Mount Colah station to Pymble station - 20km. Erm... this is a road ride and doesn't involve riding on dirt of any kind!

Then, check the walking information:

There are 121km of walks listed there.

There is also mention of the 250km Great North Walk which passes through this park.

I know that just because one user group has facilities it doesn't necessarily mean another group should get the same, but come on... fairs fair and all that Sad

Also, I know that habitat fragmentation by tracks is a concern but someone has mentioned to me recently that while that is the case for roads and firetrails, for narrow tracks (such as walking tracks and mountain bike single track) it is not so much an issue. Sorry, I know that should be backed up with a reference but don't have that to hand right now. Will try and dig it out.

I guess what one could say is that if there are 121km of walks in this park then fragmentation there by that kind of track cannot be an issue. So let's have a matching 121km of mountain bike tracks please! Or turn a good proportion of those walking trails into shared use tracks.

ps's picture

@rob. I spoke to the girl who presented at the Turramurra NPWS workshop. My impression is that NPWS understand that many mountain bike riders are also national park supporters. By supporters I mean that MTBers are not just users of parks, rather they are part of the advocate group who appreciate nature and encourage others to respect and look after the parks.
One of the main justifications she mentioned for increasing park facilities for MTBers is that the traditional sources of park advocates like bushwalking families are decreasing. They see the MTB numbers increasing and want to encourage us to continue to use parks and bring our kids along to use and appreciate the parks. My assumption is they care about increasing the number of children who get to experience national parks as kids are the easiest to educate and start on a lifetime of national park use and advocacy.
Dont know if the number of park users is linked to funding however as most things come back to funding I wouldn't be surprised if they see the discussion paper as just a mechanism for evening up the available resources across the "approved" user groups by developing more legal MTB trails.

Matt_B's picture

@rob I couldn't agree more but most of the fire roads are probably extensions of ancient tracks, most of the walking tracks were probably put in in the great walking boom of the 1920s or something. Change takes time.

Rob's picture

Another thought... walkers claim they are more ecologically sound than a bike rider but think about visitation in KCNP.

Mountain bike riders hardly ever drive into the park. If they don't ride from home, they most likely drive from home to somewhere closer that is outside the park boundary then ride into it. In very rare cases a few would drive into KCNP to get to tracks further inside like Towlers Bay or the Basin, but again, most people would ride to those tracks from outside the park. The fact a mountain bike rider has to ride along a sealed road to get to such tracks is undesirable to most - they would much rather ride to them on firetrail or single track.

Contrast that with a walker using one of the many walking trails in the park. Eg. Jerusalem Bay Track, America Bay track, etc. which are on West Head Road. One often sees vehicles parked at these tracks which would indicate walkers drive all the way there into the park and then do their walking from there.

Point is - walkers need the sealed roads in this park, not mountain bike riders. Surely the road network should be seen as an necessity for walkers only then and thus if any impact assessment is to be made of the road, lump it's impacts in with the impacts of the walking network. Now which tracks are more ecologically sound?

Note that I'm making these comments in a slightly tongue in cheek way, but surely there is a tiny bit of truth in it?

None of this really matters though. This isn't about excluding one group or proving one is worse than another. It's about making sure all users have the facilities they deserve. That was the original point of this post - if other visitors to the example park (KCNP) deserve all those kilometres of road and walking tracks then surely mountain bikers deserve a little something too!

Hop fiend's picture

is how I started my comment-that is why I ride in the bush- to get close to nature(very greenie isn't)

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