AN UNFORTUNATE REALITY OF OUR LOCAL MTB INFRASTRUCTURE
Currently, the Northern Beaches has less than 4km of purpose-built sanctioned MTB trail. Meanwhile, we have thousands of riders, and support at least 10 local bike store (and over 20 in nearby regions) How is that possible? Unsanctioned trails.
The Northern Beaches are somewhat unique from a trail history perspective, in that the sport of MTB took off long before there was any concept of a "sanctioned trail". Riders took to using old survey trails, informal walking trails, abandoned logging trails, trails built by motorbikes, and the like, and supplemented those with their own constructions to complete substantial networks, influenced by a similar movement in preceding years in the North Shore of Vancouver, Canada. Today, the informal trail networks include some of the highest quality natural trail riding experiences in the country, with Sydney's unique sandstone features providing an incredible riding resource .
TrailCare obviously cannot condone the act of unsanctioned trail construction. However, what we can do is point to the benefits. Without its extensive unsanctioned trail networks (which at one stage included Manly Dam), the sport never would have grown to where it is today. The economic benefits arising from the unsanctioned trail networks can be conservatively quantified using data we have obtained from Strava. For example, we are aware that around 2,500 Strava-registered riders used trails in the Oxford Falls and Red Hill areas between December 2013 and December 2014, logging about 750,000km in rides. If we assume that only about half of all riders use Strava, and Strava users only record about half of their rides, that leads to:
· A health benefit valie of over $3 million, using the TfNSW economics manual; and
· A retail economic benefit of close to $20 million.
Furthermore, a trail network of similar scope is typically estimated to bring a tourism benefit in the order of $20 million per annum. Of course, so long as mountain bikers are treated like criminals and vandals, such benefits go unrealised.
TrailCare believes there should be a moratorium on the closure of existing informal trails, requiring a full strategic review. Details of our proposal are available here.
The basic premise is that, regardless of short-sighted actions taken to shut down informal trails, the user group remains and continues to grow. Poorly conceived closure strategies simply sway the supply/demand equation further to one side, and inevitably results in undesirable effects including the proliferation of additional unsanctioned trails in new areas (often including poorly conceived trails by inexperienced builders). This is a cycle that has continued for at least 15 years, an needs to stop.
There is only one solution to the "problem" of unsanctioned trails: the provision of an adequate supply of sanctioned trails which meet the needs of the riding community. This necessarily requires trails which provide a similar or better rider experience to the current unsanctioned trails, and a strategy which allows formal trail networks to continue their evolution with the community.