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Trail builders want to work with the ACT Government to bring in cycle-tourism dollars

By Anne Treasure - 8 June 2017 9

A team of volunteer trail-builders is calling on the ACT Government to work with them to fast-track the replacement of mountain bike trails lost to harvest.

Clear-fall harvest operations commenced in East Kowen Forest this week, forcing the closure of a large portion of the mountain bike trail network. The harvest will see the loss of up to 39 hand-built trails this winter.

“As trail builders, we are saddened to be losing so many trails in one hit but we have always known we are building trail in a commercial plantation at the permission of the land manager,” said trail-builder Alan Vogt.

The 5-year harvest plan will remove approximately 70% of the 120km trail network in East Kowen/Sparrow Hill – 110 hand built trails. This network has taken many years to build and represents many thousands of volunteer hours.

“We enjoy a good relationship with the land managers and communication is pretty good, but it is clear the harvest is going to create massive change and that will dramatically affect the riding out there.”

“It is challenging to see how the harvest could be done differently, but the trails are important enough to the ACT as a tourism destination for them to consider it,” said Alan.

“East Kowen and Sparrow Hill is a massive network of trails. It is a fantastic place to ride and is a huge drawcard for interstate riders.”

“Canberra was well-known as the mountain biking capital of Australia, but that title has been under threat for a good while now,” said Alan. “I don’t think it is really a claim we can make, hand-on-heart, anymore. Other places are investing considerably more and working harder to stand out as ‘must-do’ mountain-biking destinations. It has become a highly competitive space and we really need to address that.”

“We’re interested in exploring whether ACT Government could get behind volunteer trail builders and help to fast-track replacement of the trails lost to harvest, and I think that is how it should be approached.”

The volunteer trail builders – known as The Kowalski Brothers Trailworks – have a rich history of building trails in the ACT region. They have built trails in most ride locations in Canberra but have spent much of the past 6 years in Kowen.

More recently, they have built shared trails in Zoo Pines (behind the National Zoo and Aquarium), have worked with ACT Parks and Conservation Service to remediate illegally built trails on Black Mountain, and recently commenced work building shared trails in the National Arboretum.

When I spoke to him, Alan was at the Arboretum building trail with the staff of Trek Bicycles Australia, who regularly volunteer as a corporate community-engagement activity. The headquarters for Trek Asia-Pacific is located in Canberra partly on the strength of the ACT as a mountain-biking drawcard.

Alan listed a number of businesses who volunteer on a regular basis to help build trails with the Kowalski Brothers. The involvement of private enterprise and recognition of the importance of these wonderful amenities leaves the door wide open to the ACT Government to provide support.

“What can they do to assist with the replacement of the region’s largest trail network?” he asked of the ACT Government in regards to the Kowen trails, adding that forestry stakeholders are open to involvement in a potential Kowen Forest project.

“Losing trails impacts on cycle tourism, impacts on the viability of events and reduces the amenity for locals. We’d rather be out building more trail and growing the appeal of the Canberra region as a must-ride destination.”

“There’s a huge opportunity to make ACT mountain-biking the best in Australia – we have a unique opportunity with our bush capital setting, and we just need the Government to get on board and help us out,” said Alan.

Alan Vogt’s conversations with the decision-makers in the ACT continue, and he has grand plans. If he can make them a reality, the whole of our region will benefit.

Want to help out and get your hands dirty building trails around the ACT? Sign up here.

Anne Treasure is the Communications Manager for Pedal Power ACT. She writes on bike riding in the ACT from the perspective of someone who rides mainly for transport. 

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9 Responses to
Trail builders want to work with the ACT Government to bring in cycle-tourism dollars
Queanbeyanite 8:40 pm 15 Jun 17

Dr AB said :

I did a little back of the envelope number crunching (ok a little more than back of the envelope).

So you’ll be fine if they turn up and build it in your backyard then?

The trail builders and ACT Forests are doing the right thing. Pine forests are grown on a ~30 year rotation, a year after the first thinning would be a good time to put trails in, so they could continue to work with ACT Forests to spread the trails around all the plantations that have just been first thinned. They’d then get about 20 years of trail usage, except for a couple of years when the plantations are second thinned.

In any case the ACT local council have the Kowen plantations lined up for development when they run out of infill elsewhere, probably by 2030.

Anne Treasure 12:28 pm 09 Jun 17

Dr AB said :

I did a little back of the envelope number crunching (ok a little more than back of the envelope).

Logging gross returns = $25,000 per Ha (one off, doesn’t include cost of re-establishing forest, maintenance or management)

Recreation returns $5,000 per Ha per annum (doesn’t include the health benefits, establishment, maintenance etc.)

Health benefits of 1000 people riding 2 hours a week to the ACT = $998,000 per annum – ie 50,000 people a year riding through Kowen Forest

Tourism Spend: $250 per night per cycling tourist (direct spend).

How many people come just to mountain bike Kowen? I don’t have those figures to hand but it’s part of a suite of products. I’d estimate that 80% of people visiting Canberra for a multi day mountain bike trip would ride Kowen/Sparrow. Conservatively this is 8,000 people (nights) per annum ($2,000,000 direct spend). If you loose Kowen, potentially 25% of those riders will choose somewhere else for their weekend away. That’s a reduction of $500,000 direct spend to the ACT Economy.
Finally there are 28 bike shops and major manufacturers located in Canberra/Queanbeyan. Removal of a major riding destination will have an impact on them but I’m not sure how to quickly quantify that.

Logging is now underway but I’d say:

1. Do the cycle tourism strategy first (due to be complete by August 2017)

2. Decide if it’s better to log the forest, maintain them as a recreational/tourism resource or a sensible combination.

If the Government want to keep logging, look at ways manage the forest and the network – look at what they are doing in New Zealand and the U.K. as a guide

Cutting down the forests means prior to the study means no matter what the results show the tourism potential will be lost.

The trail-builders would love to work with the land managers to find a way that they can continue to produce while maintaining the trails (ie not clearfelling), and they do have some interest in doing that in the future. But you’re right, it’s too late for Kowen at this stage. It’s definitely time for the Govt to at least open a dialogue with the volunteer builders and find a way to maintain their hard work.

dungfungus 10:08 am 09 Jun 17

Anne Treasure said :

daaxix said :

One of the main reasons that my sister and her partner visited us here in Canberra, instead of us meeting them in NZ, was the excellent mountain biking. They came to Canberra and spent their money here, rented bikes, etc. If Canberra doesn’t maintain their status as one of the top MTB spots in Australia I think we will lose tourists…

From NZ! Now that is absolutely a testament to the strength of our MTB offering – we’d be silly not to find a way to make it even better.

Yeah, lets spend a few million more. I’m good with appeasing a couple of NZ bike riders any day of the week.

Dr AB 9:58 am 09 Jun 17

I did a little back of the envelope number crunching (ok a little more than back of the envelope).

Logging gross returns = $25,000 per Ha (one off, doesn’t include cost of re-establishing forest, maintenance or management)

Recreation returns $5,000 per Ha per annum (doesn’t include the health benefits, establishment, maintenance etc.)

Health benefits of 1000 people riding 2 hours a week to the ACT = $998,000 per annum – ie 50,000 people a year riding through Kowen Forest

Tourism Spend: $250 per night per cycling tourist (direct spend).

How many people come just to mountain bike Kowen? I don’t have those figures to hand but it’s part of a suite of products. I’d estimate that 80% of people visiting Canberra for a multi day mountain bike trip would ride Kowen/Sparrow. Conservatively this is 8,000 people (nights) per annum ($2,000,000 direct spend). If you loose Kowen, potentially 25% of those riders will choose somewhere else for their weekend away. That’s a reduction of $500,000 direct spend to the ACT Economy.
Finally there are 28 bike shops and major manufacturers located in Canberra/Queanbeyan. Removal of a major riding destination will have an impact on them but I’m not sure how to quickly quantify that.

Logging is now underway but I’d say:

1. Do the cycle tourism strategy first (due to be complete by August 2017)

2. Decide if it’s better to log the forest, maintain them as a recreational/tourism resource or a sensible combination.

If the Government want to keep logging, look at ways manage the forest and the network – look at what they are doing in New Zealand and the U.K. as a guide

Cutting down the forests means prior to the study means no matter what the results show the tourism potential will be lost.

Anne Treasure 7:34 am 09 Jun 17

daaxix said :

One of the main reasons that my sister and her partner visited us here in Canberra, instead of us meeting them in NZ, was the excellent mountain biking. They came to Canberra and spent their money here, rented bikes, etc. If Canberra doesn’t maintain their status as one of the top MTB spots in Australia I think we will lose tourists…

From NZ! Now that is absolutely a testament to the strength of our MTB offering – we’d be silly not to find a way to make it even better.

Anne Treasure 7:33 am 09 Jun 17

dungfungus said :

What happened to the Natures Way grant Pedal Power got last month to further the MTB trails in and around Canberra?
Where is that money being spent?

Canberra has a long way to go to catch up with Tasmania in the trail bike tourism stakes.

http://www.examiner.com.au/story/4682301/states-mountain-bike-tourism-shifts-up-gear/

The Nature Play grant program is well underway in the planning stage, and we are currently looking for ride leaders to be trained up. Unfortunately, Pedal Power ACT is not in the trail-building business, which is why it is so important to keep the guys mentioned in this article going.

If you’re interested in getting involved as a ride leader or a participant (provided there are still trails left!), have a look at this: http://www.pedalpower.org.au/news/new-pedal-power-mtb-program-to-attract-cycle-tourism-to-the-act/

Dondon 8:03 pm 08 Jun 17

dungfungus said :

Canberra has a long way to go to catch up with Tasmania in the trail bike tourism stakes.

http://www.examiner.com.au/story/4682301/states-mountain-bike-tourism-shifts-up-gear/

Absolutely, the good thing about the ACT however is all the trails are within close proximity rather in Tassie where for example the blue tiers being a significant journey north from the trails in Hobart.

dungfungus 6:10 pm 08 Jun 17

What happened to the Natures Way grant Pedal Power got last month to further the MTB trails in and around Canberra?
Where is that money being spent?

Canberra has a long way to go to catch up with Tasmania in the trail bike tourism stakes.

http://www.examiner.com.au/story/4682301/states-mountain-bike-tourism-shifts-up-gear/

daaxix 3:14 pm 08 Jun 17

One of the main reasons that my sister and her partner visited us here in Canberra, instead of us meeting them in NZ, was the excellent mountain biking. They came to Canberra and spent their money here, rented bikes, etc. If Canberra doesn’t maintain their status as one of the top MTB spots in Australia I think we will lose tourists…

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