For the past 15 years, Canberra’s Stromlo Forest Park, which took shape following the 2003 ACT bushfires, has been the jewel in the crown of ACT’s sporting facilities.
Attracting an estimated 700,000 visitors a year, the facility includes mountain biking, criterium, cross-country running and now swimming.
For many people, the mountain bike section of the facility is the unique aspect of the park with 50km of trails utilising Mount Stromlo.
In 2009, Canberra hosted the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships, attracting 30,000 visitors from 40 countries, with the event featuring 750 of the world’s top riders.
It was hailed as an enormous success and set the benchmark for future world championships and world cups.
Manufactured drops, dual feed zones and riders side-by-side were some of the aspects featured at Mount Stromlo in the 2009 event, and they have now been adopted internationally.
So successful was the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships, other cities around Australia realised the economic benefits of having a world-class mountain bike and multi-cycling facility.
Warburton, in Victoria, is building a mountain bike facility with the goal being to create 160km of trails.
There’s also Smithfield Mountain Bike Park near Cairns; Blue Derby Mountain Bike Trails in Tasmania; and now Wagga Wagga, two hours and 20 minutes from Canberra, is creating a facility.
Modelled on several aspects of Mount Stromlo, the Wagga Wagga Multisport Cycling Complex, which is currently under construction, will incorporate mountain biking, BMX, a velodrome and criterium circuit.
The mountain bike trails will be 35-40km in length, with a capacity to be increased in the future.
Not content with being a regional hub for cycling, there is also a proposal before Wagga Wagga City Council to build a $65 million multisport facility around Bolton Park.
The facility would include a 50-metre indoor pool, a 50-metre outdoor pool, a 25-metre warm-up pool, and facilities for indoor diving, gymnastics, cricket and tennis.
If funding can be secured, Wagga Wagga will be in a far better position to host major sporting events, such as the Australian Masters Games, than Canberra.
But wait, there’s more.
Wagga Wagga also has its eyes on hosting AFL, Big Bash League and more NRL games, which gets me back to the jewel in the crown of Canberra’s sporting facilities: Stromlo Forest Park.
During the past fortnight, I have spoken to a number of people in the ACT about what is needed to protect Canberra’s status as Australia’s number one destination for mountain bike enthusiasts.
There is a consensus that we may need to alter our approach.
There are plenty of cross-country trails, but there is a desire for more gravity-based trails utilising the height of Mount Stromlo.
The option of incorporating Blue Range, to the west of Uriarra Village, is seen as one option to expand the range of rides.
The establishment of a BMX facility at Stromlo Forest Park, between the swimming pool and mountain bike car park, is another option on the wish list.
The people I have spoken to are passionate, not only about off-road cycling, but through emotional attachment to Stromlo.
The feeling is that Canberra is considerably well placed to be the venue of choice for mountain bike riders and cyclists in general, with Sydney and its larger population of cyclists only three hours away.
The expansion of trails in and around Mount Stromlo will not only add to the experience, but will keep visitors in the city longer, spending plenty of tourism dollars.
The Mount Stromlo Forest Park is up there among the top mountain bike facilities in Australia – let’s keep it that way.