Mountain bike use in Protected Areas

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Unlicensed and illegal trail bike riding on Crown Land - warning signs are not sufficient to manage protected areas

Moutain Bikes - Mounting Questions. Should we permit and encourage mountain biking in NSW National Parks as proposed by the NSW Government? The idea of healthier leisure pursuits, reduced dependence on fossil fuels and the creation of new tourism infrastructure should be applauded. But the negative impacts and need for strong cohesion leaves us with a number of questions. This article aims to pinpoint concerns and put forward recommendations.

Economic Development

Tourism offers a major economic contribution to rural NSW and Australia. The NSW Government Discussion Paper on Mountain Bike use in National Parks does not provide details of the economic benefits brought by mountain biking. If local residents use the trails then the economic benefit is considerably reduced compared to visitors from outside the area who may spend within the community. The scale of this expenditure depends on the length of visitation and the available range and quality of goods/services. To grow jobs in cycling in rural areas will require the private sector investment, this requires a convincing plan with Government commitments identified. There is no indication of when this plan would be prepared, the economic value targeted, the KPIs nor the level of investment.

Recommendation: For tourism to help local economies then income must be retained within those communities and linkages established. The Tourism NSW plan will need to involve the RTO’s and the private sector to offer an integrated product.

Economic Sustainability

While local volunteers may help maintain the networks, others may use them for free. This is not equitable nor a long term sustainable plan. A “User Pays” concept could make a positive contribution to the maintenance of facilities. Maintenance revenues could also be generated from the destination experiences enjoyed by visitors from outside the region. A broader tourism strategy is required rather than simply relying on staycationers. Tourists, properly managed, could both make a positive contribution to the maintenance of the network, the conservation of the National Park and bring much needed income to rural Australia.

Recommendation: A local economic development strategy must be integrated into the destination management plan and the network design so that the local community can reap the benefits and NPWS can fund this tourist infrastructure. This is supported by the secondary objectives listed by the IUCN Guidelines for applying protected area management.

Destination Management

Current cycling networks are not sufficiently integrated. For example, the NSW Government cycle networks in Sydney appear to be for local residents rather than tourists, and are not comprehensively linked to Tourism NSW online cycle pages, nor cycle rental businesses. Both the Jackson Report (2009) and the NSW Taskforce on Tourism & National Parks (2008) highlight the need for improvement in tourism through:
• Integration of destination development
• Collaborative efforts between public and private sector

Recommendation: NPWS and other major stakeholders need to dovetail their ambitions. Stakeholders need to agree on a mountain bike strategy which enhances the visitor experience, emphasis the destination’s point of difference and improves the quality of life of the community. Key will be that the routes:
a) Link with rail networks (those with bike storage facilities)
b) Form part of the core destination competitive edge and brand differentiation
c) Work with mountain bike services (in many cases these would need to be established so a sound business case is required)
Countries like Austria have a successful cycle network. The North East of England is now developing a cycle hub. In both cases they form part of the destination management tourism portfolio, a built-in rather than a bolt-on.

Network Integration

The Discussion Paper implies the plan will interlink with the NSW Bike Plan 2010. However, the RTA report states that bike facilities in rural NSW (where most of the National Parks are located) will only be incorporated in new road developments. The concern here is that there will be missing links between National Parks (offering the mountain bike facilities) and bike paths linking rural locations to major roads or rail links (with cycle storage). In effect, the lack of linkages may result in use of fossil fuel transport as riders predominantly have to drive to National Parks. This would unfortunately take us in the opposite direction to the Government’s plan of reducing congestion and pollution. The Discussion Paper draws on the UNWTO’s definition of sustainability, but the lack of true networks are not compatible with sustainable tourism development (points 12 and 16 Lanzarote Charter 1995)

Recommendation: First concentrate on comprehensively completing those networks which have the highest degree of existing built links and offering the highest positive economic impact.

Impact on the Commons

The NSW Taskforce accepted that sustainable nature tourism can only be successful if the conservation values are “maintained or enhanced” since National Parks primary purpose is the protection of the environment.

While NPWS accept that the routes ought to be using existing trails, there is still the concern that illegal riding could continue and some riders will continue to take “adventure rides” away from designated areas. The current policies have not dissuaded illegal use of mountain bikes (as confirmed in the Discussion Paper). In the South Coast of NSW some members of a Government Agency describe their situation as “under siege from vandalism”. With a growing Australian population could more access continue to put pressure on the Commons? Is this environmentally sustainable, as defined by the UNWTO’s sustainable tourism indicators: “tourist numbers visiting site” and “intensity of use in peak periods”? We do not currently record damage by trail bikes, illegal use of mountain bikes and general vandalism, there are also no KPIs to guide management. If we do not have the power to stop erosion and noise pollution of the Commons now, how will this new initiative resolve the matter in the future? From an environmental ethics viewpoint should we ask the question, by what right do we have to consume the habitats of other species, for mountain bike use?

On the other hand Forests NSW goal is sustainable development of their assets. Its role is different to NPWS, permitting forestry industry and wide recreation, yet they have been excluded from the NSW Bike Plan 2010 for building bicycle networks.

Recommendation: The Discussion Paper does say other land owners will be contacted to bridge the gaps in cycle networks. However, the first question which might need to be asked of the NSW Bike Plan is are the NPWS portfolio of potential routes actually critical to the success of a nature mountain bike experience? In this analysis, a clear destination could be made between:
i) Cycle networks for residents providing alternatives to fossil fuel transport;
ii) Cycle networks to permit tourists to discover rural (and urban) spaces
iii) Location for mountain bike events
If the Commons held under NPWS supervision are considered valuable then we would benefit from:
a) Responsible Mountain Bike Cycling Code which goes further than the IMBA guidelines
b) Residents and visitors encouraged to actively contribute to improving the natural area’s conservation value rather than only minimising impacts. This could be integrated into a “User Pays” model.

Responsible Tourism & Responsible Cycling

Current trail bike, mountain bike practice and vandalism on the Commons leaves much to be desired. If the assets are further promoted it should be hand in hand with responsible tourism policies.

Recommendation: Accreditation - NPWS will want to generate revenue through the use of licences enabling tourism operators to use the new mountain bike facilities. A Mountain Bike Accreditation could be mandated and independently verified both through spot checks and annual visits. However, every network and every community will have specific individual needs. The codes for Responsible Cycling should also reflect the social and environmental diversified qualities of Australia and not a one size fits all. Funding must involve the “User Pays”, licence holders, the tourism businesses which join the networks and the destination managers. It must involve a “whole of tourism” approach to be effective.

Link to NSW Government Discussion Paper: