Northern Beaches Open Space and Outdoor Recreation Strategy recommended for Approval at December 2022 Council Meeting
Damage within the grassed area at Plateau Park, Bilgola, in mid 2021 - image supplied
A large part of the document recommends approval of formalising illegal mountain bike tracks and dirt jumps that have been cut into local bush reserves, communal suburban green parks and into areas within adjacent National Parks.
On October 21 2022 NSW Environment Department approved its Cycling Strategy plan to introduce new opportunities for all forms of cycling and potentially increase the amount mountain bike tracks into National Parks and Reserves. There is already a proposal open for consultation for a mountain bike track in Glenrock State Conservation Area, with feedback invited until February 6 2023.
Mountain Bike riding is already allowed in Glenrock, however unauthorised tracks have been cut into the Area and increased usage has resulted in conflicts between cyclists and those who walk or run along the authorised trails. The plan proposes providing upgraded and new bike track facilities and adopting a track signage principle of ‘no sign – no walk/run/ride’, to identify trails suitable for the activity to reduce user conflict and improve visitor safety. However the plan also states that a small number of existing walking tracks may be designated for multi-use to provide cycling connections.
Neither the Glenrock proposal nor the Cycling Strategy mention the impact on wildlife of these activities in the places these mammals live. Many view the introduction of mountain biking into these areas as equivalent to introducing more fauna deaths and injury by bikes into the places wildlife live. Our area already has thousands of local wildlife impacted annually and that number has risen from around 4000 each year to over 5000.
Data to 30 June 2021 lists of the 5, 235 animals rescued during that 2020 to 2021 period just 1,573 were released. Dog attacks on wildlife and collisions with cars are listed as the two top reasons for rescues.
A video posted August 5th 2020 on a website called ‘Trail Forks’ with a webpage dedicated to ‘Deep Creek’ and titled ‘Submission to Friday Fails’ shows a mountain bike rider colliding with a wallaby that had been sitting quietly in the morning sun. The rider was dislodged – no account of what happened to the wallaby or whether help was sought for what would certainly be injuries and shock was posted.
Neither is who will be responsible or liable when a bike rider has an accident in these areas. As shown by a rise of accidents by local riders, as well as those walking on these trails they run into, emergency service personnel are then required to hike into these inaccessible places. In a few recent incidences a helicopter has been required to lift an injured rider out of a bush reserve or national park.
Or that 'signs' are defaced, ignored:
Garigal NP - Ingleside/Mona Vale road end - photo supplied
Garigal NP - Ingleside/Mona Vale road end; sacred site with bike wheel markings - photo supplied
The accompanying Community engagement report for the Final Draft document states residents are 'mostly supportive', and that the Council has a 'reach of 160,000 through its newsletter'. However the statements from residents who use Whitney Reserve at Mona Vale, where it is planned to formalise dirt bike jumps, are overwhelmingly rejecting the plan, with some stating they had not been informed and were unaware the consultation was occurring.
One respondent states;
‘The only place bike jumps would could be located would be in the middle of the reserve, which would mean it could not be used by families, which is its primary purpose. I would be concerned if the jumps are formalised it would nullify residents’ ability to put in a complaint when things get out of hand. Which they did during lockdown.’
Another has stated;
‘We do not want to formalise bike jumps, (not doing so would) would prevent conflict between residents and riders. Those bike jumps were built in an unusual period. They have NOT been used since. We DO NOT want them back. There is significant risks to human health, not to mention the aesthetics and noise of the park of what 'reinstating' these jumps (which is something that doesn't currently exist) would do.
Further, it leaves residents with an inability to put in a complaint if things get out of hand. Which they did during lockdown. They will use this area like a mountain bike park, it causes significant damage to the area, and with the road so close there is bound to be further injuries (we have already have had 2 and countless near misses - especially with the increased traffic).
It will not be just be local young kids who will use this area. Lockdown showed us that many kids were driven here and dropped off, and that bigger kids soon came and bullied the little kids out. There was also remote-control car and motorbikes at one point. The Rubbish and damage is still there - 2 years later.’
‘Lots of native wildlife will be impacted.’
Whitney Reserve has always been one of those common grounds where all ages meet - to picnic, to play cricket, to exercise Mona Vale residents 'how's the serenity' protocols.
The sentiment persists, as stated in responses, that not every park or reserve should be turned into a place where sport activity facilities must be installed, that the community benefits more from just leaving them as green open spaces where they may meet, and be kept as places that will accommodate the urban wildlife living alongside humans.
The plan has not been modified in response to these expressed concerns, and what was outlined for Whitney Reserve is now recommended for approval, with the Final Draft available under Meetings on Council's website.
There is a similar proposal for formalising an illegal track cut through Ingleside Chase Reserve. This is a passive 'for the wildlife and protecting the plants' area the Pittwater community fought for years to achieve, and went without other things money could have been spent on to preserve.
One submission, also forwarded to Pittwater Online, reads;
We are opposed to authorisation of any mountain bike trails at Ingleside Chase (p108) as this reserve is easily damaged by erosion, fragmentation and loss of native flora. Often, use of one trail leads to formation of branch trails which just compound the problem. Our association led the campaign which enabled the creation of Ingleside Chase Reserve as a haven for native species, so we are extremely disappointed to see it exposed to such degrading activities. Surely there must be more appropriate locations for this activity. We note that on page 110 Council aims for improvements that are in keeping with the natural environment, and will not result in a net loss of natural bushland. Mountain bike trails in Ingleside Chase bushland are not consistent with this aim.
Finally, we believe that Northern Beaches Council must take a serious approach to protection of its bushland assets by increasing its compliance and enforcement capacity. Laws and regulations that protect our natural assets must be enforced so the majority of the community who value them are able to enjoy them into the future.
Council states in the documents its objective in formalising illegal tracks and dirt jumps n local parks is to prevent the escalation of more illegal tracks being cut into parks and bush reserves.
At least one resident who made a submission, alerted to the plan to recommend approval, has likened this reasoning to 'giving into bullies/terrorists and asking that they don't do it again' - ''and advocating for putting the lunatics in charge of the asylum - the second glaring instance of this this year alone''.
There are similar plans for local parks, bush reserves and plans to ‘work with’ NPWS to formalise those that intrude into the National Parks that overlap the LGA’s fringes across our area - from Manly dam to Newport's Trafalgar Park.
Mountain Bike Riding as a great outdoors sport exploded during the Covid lockdowns - there's no doubt it gave residents a welcome relief from the bad news indoors and brought them into contact with all that's in the great outdoors. The mass exodus into the bush or into trashing your local park has not continued though, as pointed out by residents.
The shift towards eco-tourism aspired to through the state government already works locally and brings millions of dollars into the area annually, benefiting residents. Many great instances of increasing the health of the environment and restoring habitat are at the core of the best of these.
The plan is also likened, as has been experienced, as taking away from the many to give to the few, or attempting to validate that what some want for themselves is more important than what the many would prefer to keep intact for all.
There is no doubt that cycling in protected areas also poses serious risks to nature.
The illegal construction of mountain bike tracks, jumps and structures is causing severe environmental damage to national parks and reserves. That damage is the direct result of the clearance of native vegetation and habitats, the disturbance and loss of natural soils and disruption of waterways.
The unapproved construction of tracks has been growing over recent decades, and most especially over the last couple of years. Each illegal track or series of jumps might ‘only’ affect a few hundred square metres of natural habitat, but the cumulative effect, especially in urban edge parks such as Royal or Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, is the loss of thousands of hectares of national park.
Recent instances have shown that where they have permitted a local park to be destroyed by the installation of dirt jumps has brought out the bully in some users who chase others from using the jumps stating these places are 'their park', and even their parents have threatened any who oppose them.
Example of what has occurred in Crescent Reserve, Newport. The volunteer bushcarers who remonstrated with these mountain bike 'track builders' allege they were threatened by the youths and their parents and that police, wen called, did not appear and that the council ranger who did was similarly threatened. Image supplied
Those chased out of one park go and cut down plants and make holes and unauthorised tracks elsewhere, simply enlarging the scale of the perception of what's being permitted.
Pittwater ward Greens Councillor Miranda Korzy has stated,
"I'm pleased to see that once again, the community has expressed its strong support for environmental protection in consultation for the Northern Beaches Open Space and Outdoor Rec Plan.
"However, I don’t believe this is reflected in some of the measures proposed in the report, particularly with regard to mountain bike tracks.
“National parks and bush reserves have been created to protect habitat and biodiversity and are widely valued for the opportunities they provide for low-impact recreation such as bushwalking.
“I am particularly concerned about the plan’s proposal for the council to work with the National Parks and Wildlife Service about “regional trail opportunities” for mountain biking and horse riding.
“The damage to local bushland and Aboriginal sites caused by mountain bike trails and jumps in recent years has been extensive and I believe this activity is inconsistent with the national parks’ conservation role.
“I therefore don’t support the proposed formalisation of unauthorised mountain bike tracks at locations such as Ingleside Chase Reserve or Manly Dam, nor at smaller local sites such as Trafalgar Park, in Newport, where space is at a premium.
“We should be looking at less sensitive land - that might be close to bushland but already degraded - to create new trails."
No one group ever owned a park in Pittwater or Manly prior to what would eventuate, as already experienced, through the Final Draft of the Northern Beaches Council's Open Space and Outdoor Recreation Strategy - it simply wasn't part of the mindset of the community.
Nor did residents consider their selves more important than the wildlife and plant life they live alongside - the opposite was what prevailed.
In the section What the community value and appreciate (p74), it is significant that a high number of residents appreciate access to nature, views of nature and protection and preservation of bushland.
As one resident has stated to Pittwater Online; ''I’m an avid cyclist, but also an avid supporter of protected and viable natural ecosystems. I would caution that MTBs in National Parks and local bush reserves are a step too far. The principle inferred for these places is ‘passive’ not ‘active’ recreation.''
Forcing on the community that which will destroy the habitat alongside of the tributaries and creeks streams, and will destroy the safety and peace of wildlife and other residents, and will destroy the common ground that is at the core of our communal village greens, is at odds with what has already been forwarded by the community and formed part of Council's original document.
All Councillors, except Cr Glanville and Cr Korzy who voted Against the proposal, and Cr Regan and Cr Ryburn who were absent, voted FOR the formalisation of illegally cleared and unauthorised trails at Manly Dam War Memorial Park (Manly Dam), the Mona Vale Downhill mountain bike trail in Ingleside Chase Reserve, at Whitney Reserve at Mona Vale, Deep Creek at North Narrabeen (known as Mt Narra to mountain bike riders), and in Trafalgar Reserve at Newport at the December 13, 2022 Council Meeting.
Councillor Stuart Sprott declared what was listed as a ''not significant non-pecuniary interest in relation to Item 13.3 and will remain in the meeting for the discussion and voting on this item''. The reason provided was: “I am a mountain bike rider.”
Cr. Sprott also spoke in support of the Item, explaining he had been one of those people who cut illegal tracks as a young person but opined that with education young residents could be made aware of the problem they cause in the environments they destroy building illegal tracks.