It took him over a year to make, but he’s been given 30 days to get rid of it.
Tyson Jones-Peni is under orders from the ACT Government to remove a dirt BMX trail he and his mates hand-built on a portion of public land near Lake Ginninderra in Belconnen.
The president of the Freestyle ACT BMX (FACT BMX) club, owner of the Back Bone BMX store and avid BMX rider of 25 years has been threatened with fines and a referral to the ACT Magistrate’s Court by Transport Canberra and City Services (TCCS) if he doesn’t comply.
He and the local freestyle BMX community are gutted.
“There are people building jumps all across Canberra right now, and it comes down to the fact there’s nothing else like it here,” he says.
“BMX is an entire, fully legitimate sport, not to mention that kids are outside trying to shovel dirt for hours, and that seems pretty positive compared to some of the other things people can get up to. And yet demolitions are also par for the course.”
Riders like Tyson did have a place to go in Stromlo Forest Park, but these jumps were demolished in 2018 to make way for a smoother freestyle track and never replaced.
Since 2011, his calls for more purpose-built BMX facilities have largely fallen on deaf ears too, even when referred to Bumps and Berms. This government program was set up as a way for the community to “add additional play value to neighbourhood spaces across Canberra by designing and creating dirt bike tracks”, provided they’re designed and constructed in collaboration with the ACT Government.
“I had no response,” he says.
It’s why he finally decided to take matters into his own hands during the COVID lull in April 2021.
“I live in Belconnen, and there was a patch of bush by the lake that caught my eye – it was full of general rubbish, and there were already some little jumps, so I thought this is as good a place as any to build one.”
Over the ensuing 12 months, Tyson and his mates took up shovels and carved out seven jumps, some more than two metres tall, around a 200-metre circular track. Since then, he says the reaction has been “overwhelmingly positive”.
“We’ve had older people bird-watching that are really impressed with it, and just general members of the public walking through it who can’t believe what we’ve done.”
That was until 4 May this year, when a government notice – complete with investigation tape – appeared at the site, giving Tyson until 4 June to bring the site back to its original condition.
A spokesperson said the ACT Government was first alerted to the track by a report from “a concerned member of the public”.
“When we become aware of tracks being built without prior approval or consultation, we try and get in contact with those who are responsible so we can work with them to ensure it meets guidelines,” the government spokesperson said.
“An inspection by officers found that the track is unsafe with work endangering the surrounding environment, including to several large established trees.”
The government has since granted Tyson an extension of 30 days “in the interests of further consultation with the group”.
In the meantime, eight-time BMX and mountain bike world champion and Olympian Caroline Buchanan has also come out in support of the track, describing Canberra as her “stomping grounds” that “launched my professional cycling career”.
“The team at Back Bone BMX have been building great dirt jumps and I believe it’s greatly needed in our community to have an area they are building protected and supported for elite athletes like myself and for the next generation of kids,” she said.
However, the site’s future isn’t looking hopeful. Tyson met with a government official who he says is “advocating for a public facility, but just not this one”.
“I’m worried it’s going to take too long, and there will be an entire generation of kids that are going to go without something that is a need.”