Mt Canobolas: a world-class destination for mountain bike riding
Orange City Council is exploring a proposal to build a network of mountain bike trails on Mt Canobolas.
Evidence suggests the mountain has the potential to attract riders from across Australia and the world, building on the Orange region’s capacity to welcome tourists and enthusiasts, while providing the resources to protect the mountain’s unique environment.
The project’s environmental impact is still to be assessed by government authorities.
- 1.The story so far
- 2.What did the environmental consultants do?
- 3.Where on the mountain are the proposed tracks?
- 4.What happens next?
Mt Canobolas mountain bike project: the story so far
Orange City Council is exploring a proposal to build a network of mountain bike trails on Mt Canobolas. After preliminary research in 2014 and 2015 indicated a network of trails were viable, Orange City Council allocated $500,000 in its 2020/2021 to explore the proposal in more detail. In November 2020, a firm of environmental consultants, The Environment Factor, was appointed to research the location of sensitive areas on the mountain, discover if there was room to design a network of tracks around these ‘no-go’ areas, design the networks of tracks and conduct an environmental impact assessment. The proposed network of more than 100 kms of track has now been designed, around these constraints. Maps of these tracks can be viewed on the page. Consultants have now completed a Preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment (PEIA). Once it’s lodged with DPIE, it will be a public document and will be open to community scrutiny as the government assesses the proposal. The PEIA provides an overview of the project and considers the potential environmental impacts that may result from the proposed works. Additionally, the PEIA proposes potential mitigation measures or safeguards to avoid, minimise, mitigate or offset these potential impacts. There’s more information about the contents of the PEIA in the FAQs below.
What did the environmental consultants do?
The work of the environmental consultants took many months:
- Detailed ecological assessments were completed on the mountain – including professional surveys to record threatened species of plants and animals as well as important habitat. In addition, background information has was gathered from key stakeholders who have been gathering ecological data for many years.
- The formal, legislated Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment was progressed to identify any objects or places of cultural significance requiring protection not previously identified.
- Camera traps, floristic plots (were completed in accordance with the Biodiversity Assessment Method (BAM)), bird surveys and habitat assessment were undertaken, for a total of over 500 hours spent surveying ecological values on the mountain (not including Aboriginal heritage) over an eight-month period.
- All objects, species and places of significance on the mountain have been mapped and given a protection buffer to help prevent impacts. The assessment included an additional 25 metre buffer, to ensure the avoidance of any potential interaction with the trails and sensitive places, objects and threatened species.
- Extensive consultation with key stakeholders was undertaken to ensure collaboration of knowledge and ideas and a thorough approach in regard to identification of sensitive zones and the proposed trail design.
Where on the mountain are the proposed tracks?
This series of maps show the locations of the proposed 100 km network of tracks, around the constraints of the ‘no-go’ areas on the mountain.
Click on each thumbnail to open a map, then zoom in on each high-res image to see more details about the proposed trail locations.
Here is the overall map. Each of the following five ‘constraint maps’ shows more details about smaller sections of this map.
What happens next?
The proposal for a network of mountain bike trails will be assessed by the NSW Government as a Tourism development, under State Significant Development (SSD):
Since the proposal has a Capital Investment Value of more than $10 million and is partially located in an environmentally sensitive area of State significance, it will be assessed for approval by NSW Government under the State Environmental Planning Policy (State and Regional Development) 2011 (SRD SEPP).
The approvals process will involve the preparation and submission of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), as well as further opportunity for comments and feedback from members of the community.
Before preparing an EIS, an application must be made to the NSW Planning Secretary to request the environmental assessment requirements.
The application is to include particulars of the location, and the nature and scale of the development – as such, prepared and compiled into a report called a Preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment (PEIA).
The extensive process of exploring a major project such as the Mt Canobolas Mountain Bike Trails proposal can be tracked through a long series of documents. These include:
- Analysis by specialist consultants
- Reports and decisions by council meetings
- Requests to government
This document trail begins in 2014. It’s presented in reverse-chronological order, with the latest documents at the top of this list.
New documents (such as the PEIA) will be added when they are available.
ANSWERING YOUR QUESTIONS
Any project as big and complex as this, will always produce many questions. Here are some answers to the queries we hear the most.
The specialist firm of environmental consultants has spent months closely examining the areas of the mountain which must be protected and avoided by the proposed network of bike trails. In co-operation with local members of the indigenous community, they identified new indigenous heritage sites as well as places of key environmental significance.
The initial constraints identification and avoidance process indicated to Council that it is possible to have a world class network of trails as well as protect the mountain’s special places; the trails concept has been designed to avoid known sensitive areas and minimise impacts on the unique and special flora and fauna on the mount.
The government assessment process will soon investigate this evidence.
The Council is exploring if, by designing a network of trails which leave large buffers around these known sensitive areas, it will be possible to have a world class network of trails and protect the mountain’s special places. Building a network of trails will have an impact on the mountain which will need to be mitigated and managed once the trails are operating.
Constructing a network of bike trails will increase the number of visitors, giving national parks the budget they need to deal with the weeds. The Council believes, the best way to protect the mountain’s unique biodiversity is to build a network of trails. By walking every metre of these proposed trails, the consultants have also established that there are severe weed infestations in the conservation area.
Contemporary trail design aims to minimise erosion and avoid damage to the environment. Bike trails have been successfully built in Australian national parks before.
It’s understandable why both bushwalkers and cyclists would prefer to spend time amongst the beauty of native trees, rather than a commercial pine forest. That’s one reason why the majority of the proposed trails are in the mountain’s Special Conservation Area (SCA).
It’s also important to remember that a mature pine forest will be thinned out every seven years, and completely logged every thirty years, so any track infrastructure would need to be completely re-built at that point.
The proposed higher impact tracks, which involve jumping are positioned in areas which are less environmentally sensitive, outside the SCA. The narrower tracks, proposed for the SCA, are purpose-built to prevent erosion.
The trails are designed to work with a wide range of riding styles and abilities, so the mountain will be a place where riders can visit again and again.
The environmental consultants have partnered with some of the best track designers in Australia and the quality of their work is outstanding. The designers were over the moon when they saw what the terrain of Mount Canobolas had to offer, and they’ve delivered a world class network that’s going to draw riders from everywhere.
The ‘no-go’ areas were mapped by the consultants with stakeholder input. Dirt Art has produced trails that will encourage the development of a shuttle-bus approach to take riders to their starting points. There are great opportunities here for local businesses.
A professional, budgeted weed management plan is part and parcel of any network of world class bike track network. Weeds have already overrun sections of the SCA and building a track network is the best way of dealing with that problem.
The next round of environmental assessment will be handled by State Government authorities.
These authorities will handle the next stage of formal community consultation and will release the Council’s Preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment when they are ready.
It will be a public document and open to scrutiny as the government assesses the proposal.
The PEIA provides an overview of the project and considers the potential environmental impacts that may result from the proposed works. Additionally, the PEIA proposes potential mitigation measures or safeguards to avoid, minimise, mitigate or offset these potential impacts.
The PEIA discusses options considered for the proposal and assesses ‘key’ and ‘non-key’ issues relating to the proposed development.
Federal and State legislation relating to the proposed project is discussed.
Extensive background investigations and detailed field assessments were carried out within the SCA, adjacent Forestry Corporation of NSW (FCNSW) and Crown Lands to identify sensitive areas of ecology and cultural heritage. These sensitive areas or ‘constraints’ were used to inform the development of the current trail design, which is the subject of the PEIA.
Key issues relating to the project are broken down into chapters discussing the existing environment, and potential impacts that could arise from construction and operation of the proposed trails.
The PEIA also provides a scope of the assessments to be prepared for the EIS.
This report, along with other specialist reports will form part of the documentation used to assess the proposal for a network of MTB trails on Mount Canobolas.
An extensive and detailed consultation process is still underway with all members of the Aboriginal community who registered for consultation as part of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment (ACHA).
This has involved consultation and site assessment along each proposed trail with the outcome of avoiding all sites and artefacts recorded and encountered.
The ACHA process is a prescriptive, legislated process which has to be followed to the letter.
Council’s consultants have been undertaking this process sensitively and in accordance with strict and culturally appropriate protocols.
Archaeological firm Apex Archaeology who have been working alongside members of the Orange Aboriginal community, are completing the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment process for the proposal.
Working collaboratively with the Orange indigenous community is a very important part of the project and is a matter which Orange City Council and its consultants have taken very seriously as the mountain bike proposal is explored.
The work of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment (ACHA) is a legislated process which has to be followed to the letter.
That process requires that Council first engage with Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs) through a mandated process before broader consultation can occur with the Aboriginal Community.
The project has engaged with nine RAPs. This has included direct two-way email contact with the RAPs through the process. Recently this has centred on the release to the RAPs for comment on the draft Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment that was prepared under the ACHA process.
The next stage of this process involves opening up the consultation, beyond the registered participants to the wider indigenous community. Council plans to meet with the broader Aboriginal Community following the conclusion of the process required by the ACHA and will now do that as the COVID restrictions ease. Council plans to engage a cultural facilitator to co-ordinate and deliver the consultation process which will include listening to the community’s concerns.
The Orange Local Aboriginal Land Council (OLALC) has also been consulted during the process and will continue to be consulted and engaged.
Alongside this formal process, the consultants have taken many opportunities to engage with the community:
- Members of the Aboriginal community were invited to attend meetings to learn more about the project and discuss their thoughts and provide opinions.
- Discussion was held with the Orange Local Aboriginal Land Council. Members were given the chance to learn more about the project and voice any concerns they had, and a representative of the OLALC walked many of the trails with Council’s appointed archaeologist.
- Members of the Aboriginal community were invited to assist with site assessments on the mount to help identify any unknown artefact sites or special places.
- A call was put out for groups to form as Registered parties so they could be kept updated on progress with the assessment process and have their voices heard on the project.
- There are ongoing conversations with the Orange Aboriginal Community and there will be more opportunity for discussions with Council on the proposal.
Mountainbikers are people who enjoy the great outdoors and natural environments and who enjoy a range of trail difficulty levels, variety and beautiful vistas.
Mountainbikers like to go cross-country as well as downhill. The landscape of Mt Canobolas, combined with a paved road and existing emergency access, means it is ideal to offer this combination of trail types in a beautiful setting, without requiring additional impacts associated with basic infrastructure.
Other destinations in the Orange area fall down on basic functionality (i.e. they don’t have the terrain to offer the variety of trail styles and difficulty levels), location (isolation, i.e. lack of public and emergency access), or lack of vertical terrain combined with flatter areas and natural vistas.
Mt Canobolas, including the State Conservation Area and surrounding forestry land, already supports trail networks for hikers and mountainbikers. Putting in additional trails to complement and link into these areas makes more economic and environmental sense than creating an entirely new network elsewhere.
Mountain biking is established worldwide, and in some of the most unique and sensitive environments across the globe.
In Australia alone, there are established MTB trails in World Heritage listed areas:
- Maydena in Tasmania
- Wangetti Trail in Qld (which is under construction)
- National Parks (Kosciuszko, Garigal National parks and others in NSW)
- and State Conservation Areas (Glenrock, Whian Whian and Garawarra SCAs are all home to MTB trails in NSW).
Land managers of these sites have reported increased revenue from MTB tourism and events.
MTB trails have been eco-tourism drawcards to produce an income stream and in turn better maintain or improve these areas. Mt Canobolas is situated in the centre of an established tourism, winery and boutique accommodation area, close to regional towns which could benefit from the visitation to the area including Orange, Cudal, Molong and Millthorpe.
Trail construction is usually done by a small crew, weaving trails around existing environmental features such as mature trees and rocky outcrops. The final touches are completed by hand following the work done by a small excavator.
Generally, a small excavator used in sensitive areas such as bushland is 90 cm (900 mm) wide. This equipment establishes the initial trail width. Most trails will then become narrower in a short period of time, as the edges re-establish, similar to a walking trail.
In fact, mountain biking trails are usually narrower than a walking trail.
A trail network is not a civil engineering exercise. No bulldozers, bobcats or large plant will be used, and no tree felling or excessive vegetation clearing is required. Professional trail builders, who are environmentally aware and experienced in conservation and biodiversity protection measures, will work around the existing trees, rocks and habitat features.
The demographic descriptions of people who like to ride mountain bikes for recreation are broad, and encompass families with children, young adults, and middle-aged and older.
MTB’ers aren’t all whooping and hollering or uncaring of the environment. The March 2021 AusCycling Mountain Biking in Australia participation analysis had this profile:
- Gender – The data suggests that mountain bikers are primarily male (approximately 80%).
- Age – The data sources suggest that approximately one third of mountain bikers are aged between 40 and 49. This is the largest cohort of participation. There is also a strong presence of younger members, with 10 to 19-year olds making up 22% of MTBA memberships. However, this age group is not represented to the same extent in the survey results, likely because the survey was distributed via online mailing list.
- Expenditure – Based on the survey data, they are typically people who went on interstate holidays for the primary purpose of mountain biking, spending $2,485.75 per trip with accommodation being the largest expenditure item at $690.90 per ride, followed by ground transport at $530.20 and airfares at $473.90 per trip.
Locally, the Orange MTB Club (OMC) has a longstanding history of maintaining, cleaning up and improving the environment with regard to management and maintenance of trails in the region.
For years, the Club has performed regular clean ups at Kinross Forest, some years removing 2 or 3 ‘skips’ of rubbish. OMC are also already making good progress in rehabilitating Boree Creek in partnership with FCNSW along their new Galinbundinya Trail, taking a weed ravaged area and using the Trail to give access and improve and outdoor environment for recreation.
In 2017 the local MTB community worked to remove the Ivy from the Canobolas SCA and near the Pinnacle, more MTB-ers helped than all the other groups combined, and in an area where there are no MTB trails.
It’s suggested that having the MTB-ers in the forest has resulted in less anti-social behaviour and less dumping of rubbish. The 2018 QLD MTB Strategy cited: Passive surveillance provided by trail users can reduce antisocial behaviour and illegal dumping of waste in natural areas.
The 2021 AusCycling Mountain Biking in Australia participation analysis also found that having trails in local neighbourhoods, creates a sense of connection between the land and the community and can foster long term conservation outcomes.
Passive surveillance of open spaces with mountain bike trails can also reduce the likelihood of antisocial behaviour in natural areas, such as illegal dumping of waste. Mountain biking can also improve recognition and respect for Aboriginal culture and historical value of the trail areas.
Whilst the majority (80%) of riders are affluent middle-aged men with a modest disposable income, the Aussie MTB-er is fast becoming the Aussie MTB family. Derby in Tasmania is bringing Australia into line with global MTBing, with whole families flocking to Derby and other destinations to ride. MTB’ers typically experience the bike attractions and the complimentary tourist attractions making them a sought-after tourist market.
Erosion is a minor issue, which good trail design aims to prevent and avoid.
Good design ensures there are adequate turns, rises and falls and that the trail alignments are sympathetic to the natural slope of a site.
In combination with regular auditing and maintenance schedules, professionally curated trails can effectively prevent erosion and sediment migration from becoming a problem. Careful design and construction, and development of adequate maintenance routines safeguard against the effect of riders and the weather over time.
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