Could Wollongong be the next Blue Derby?

After - quite literally - years of consultation and negotiation, the NSW south coast city of Wollongong has moved a step closer to becoming one the state's premier trail centres.

A combination of local and state council officials, National Parks and Wildlife management and trail builiding experts have worked towards the release of a strategy paper around the implementation of an 82km trail network around the northern escarpment. The draft paper has now been put out for public discussion until early December.

Should it get approval, the trail network will encompass purpose-built tracks designed to cover the gamut of riders, along with cafes, parking areas and integrated access for other trail users.

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"The NSW Government recognises the rapidly growing popularity of mountain biking as a recreational activity,"reads the draft's opening statement. "The significant economic, community, health and tourism advantages of mountain bike riding to the region are also recognised. This draft strategy is a Government response to the need for sustainable mountain biking in the Illawarra Region.

"The primary emphasis of the strategy is safe sustainable recreation for a broad range of riders. The draft strategy identifies a total potential mountain bike trail network of 82 kilometres on the escarpment, with up to 37 kilometres proposed for short-term construction."

Dirt Art chief Simon French and his team has scouted hundreds of kilometres of potential trails, and the guy behind Maydena Bike Park believes the Illawarra escarpment network is a landmark in more ways than one.

"This announcement is a major shift by [NPWS] at a senior level, so it’s massive news for trail development on parks land across NSW," he told MBA.

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EWS racer Josh Carlson calls the Illawarra home

However, it's not across the line yet.

"As a community, we now stand on the precipice," said the Illawarra Mountain Bike Alliance in a statement. "We’ve been presented with a massive, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to secure an amazing network of legal MTB trails across the escarpment but, at the moment, that’s all it is… an opportunity.

"Without a strong voice of endorsement from the community that says, ‘we want these trails for the Illawarra!’, there remains a very good chance that nothing more will happen."

The Alliance is urging local and interstate bikers to offer their submissions to Wollongong City Council by December 10.

"It’s up to each one of us to send a strong, clear message to NPWS & Wollongong City Council (WCC) that this proposed project is very much a positive move, not only due to the obvious, short-term benefits for the MTB community, but also for the broader, long-term implications for the entire Illawarra region," says IMBA.

The 82km of trails will take in Mt Kiera Summit Park as well as Mt Kiera and a lower area around Tarrawanna.

The draft plan can be viewed HERE

Joel Kristensen rides some of Wollongong's trails (vid: Cranked Media/Matt Staggs)

Information sessions are being held to provide an opportunity to talk to Council and NPWS about these plans.

Aboriginal community members are invited to meet with staff from Council and NPWS on Wednesday 14 November 4-5.30pm at Wollongong Library Theatrette. 

A general information session will be held on Saturday 24 November 10-12pm at Mt Keira Summit Park.

Additionally, a public meeting will be held regarding the draft POM on Wednesday 21 November 6pm at Council Administration building, Level 9 Function Room.

To provide feedback on the draft PoM, visit Council’s website, call 02 4227 7111 or email engagement@wollongong.nsw.gov.au by 10 December 2018.

To provide feedback on the Draft Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Strategy visit the Office Environment and Heritage (OEH) website, call 4224 4188 or email npws.illawarrahighlands@environment.nsw.gov.au by 10 December 2018.

-press release-

Wollongong has the potential to become one of Australia’s leading mountain bike destinations on the back of two significant announcements in the last 24 hours – but only if the local community shows its strong support.

The Parliamentary Secretary for the Illawarra and South Coast, Gareth Ward MP, announced the commencement of a community consultation process relating to the Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Draft Strategy.

The NSW Government announcement coincided with Wollongong City Council voting last night to put the Mt Keira Summit Park Plan of Management on public exhibition for 42 days – giving the local community just over a month to provide feedback on both Plans of Management.

While a diverse network of unauthorised trails already exist on Mt Keira and the broader escarpment, there is now an unprecedented opportunity to plan, create and manage a trial network that attracts visitors, considers all users of the escarpment, and is culturally and environmentally responsible. Without strong support from the local community for both Plans of Management, the chance to formalise and improve the trails, with huge flow-on benefits to the entire region, will not proceed. General Manager of Destination Wollongong, Mark Sleigh says this is a game-changing result with enormous benefits for the local visitor economy.

“Our genuine congratulations are extended to everyone involved in achieving a result most thought would never happen. Special mention must go to Parliamentary Secretary Gareth Ward for championing the process alongside Member for Keira, Ryan Park, our Lord Mayor, Councillor Gordon Bradbery AM and all at National Parks & Wildlife Services and Wollongong City Council for their unwavering commitment to achieving this unprecedented outcome.

Our thanks also go to the Illawarra Mountain Bike Alliance and local mountain bike community for their patience and support during the feasibility process. We now look forward to broader community feedback.” Mountain biking is one of the fastest growing adventure sports in the world with a high spending demographic, something which local businesses would undoubtedly benefit from,Sleigh continued:

“It’s important to acknowledge that Mountain biking occurs every single day on the Illawarra escarpment – and will continue to happen every single day regardless of the outcomes of this process. It’s not an argument about whether we want mountain biking on the escarpment because we can’t control that; it’s whether we want to plan, control and optimise it.

“What this process can deliver is a sustainable trail network, which integrates with other existing uses of the escarpment in a safe manner. Crucially, trails can be built in areas of lower cultural and ecological significance, which can’t be guaranteed at the moment.. Surely that’s a win for everyone who has an interest in the long term sustainability of the Illawarra Escarpment. The bottom line is this: it’s just an opportunity at this stage, not a reality. We are calling on the community to show their strong support.”

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