The creation of a network of mountain bike trails on Mount Canobolas offers a good opportunity to restore the mountain environment, Orange Mayor Reg Kidd believes.
The Environmental Factor, a team of specialist environmental consultants appointed by Orange City Council has been working with Apex Archaeology since November last year to locate archaeological and environmentally-sensitive areas on the mountain. After six months of research, the consultants have mapped sensitive locations on the mountain and designed tracks to avoid these areas.
The team from specialist track designers, Dirt Art, has now begun the next phase of the project which includes walking the proposed routes, followed by the archaeology and ecology teams.
However, the latest work has revealed major areas of weed infestation on the mountain.
Orange Mayor Reg Kidd said he was concerned to learn about the scale of the weeds problem that’s come to light during this latest stage.
“The track designer starts by drawing potential route lines, based on maps of the sensitive areas and using satellite images and topography. The next essential stage is when the designer actually walks every step of the proposed route,” Cr Reg Kidd said. “However it’s been very disturbing to learn that when the track designers try to do this they’re confronted by huge fields of blackberries.”
“Opponents of this project are floating the idea that Mount Canobolas is a pristine wilderness. The reality is very different. There are beautiful areas of the mountain in good condition but there are also large areas being damaged by out-of-control blackberries and ivy and feral pigs. Because we’re avoiding sensitive areas, the proposed tracks are in areas where people don’t usually go, places where there’s no easy access to control weeds.
“I’m sure National Parks staff do the best they can with the available budget. But I’m sure the government would be spending a lot more on weed control if thousands more people were visiting the mountain every year. Park staff have been putting their efforts into accessible areas to control known weed incursions. But, it’s now clear significant areas of the park are affected that are not near existing trails and roads.
“Our specialist consultants have now come up with a plan for a network of world class mountain bike trails that will avoid sensitive areas. They’ll be designed to be environmentally-sustainable and minimise erosion. The bike network will have a weeds management plan.
“By attracting thousands of people every year, the proposed tracks will be good for the Orange economy, but importantly they will offer the best chance to restore the mountain environment and put it in a better condition than it is now. The consultants are working hard to walk the proposed trail network to find any new ecological or Aboriginal Heritage constraints, before a final concept is designed and a detailed impact assessment will begin.
“In due course there’ll be lots of time for community discussion. But it’s important to keep the community in the loop progressively during the project,” Cr Reg Kidd said. “That’s why I think it’s important the community learns about the scale of the mountain’s weeds problem. The consultants have welcomed the steady flow of information from the community. One provided mapping of known wombat holes so they could be avoided by tracks.
“I’m pleased that our consultants are working alongside members of Orange’s Indigenous community to make sure any new tracks keep well clear of sites which are culturally-important.
“An added bonus of having a specialist archeological team following the track designers has been the discovery of previously unknown sites of interest. A scar tree that wasn’t on anyone’s radar has been found during the track walking and added to the cultural mapping of the mountain along with another cultural site found near a fire trail. When these discoveries happen, a representative of the Orange Aboriginal Lands Council comes to inspect the site.”
It’s expected the consultants will complete their ‘ground-truthing’ of the concept trails in the coming months before a formal environmental assessment of the project begins. A number of state government planning approvals would also be needed before the project goes ahead.