On yer bike, council 

HENRY THOMASON is a Spearwood resident of 10 or so years, and outdoorsman, mountain biker, bird watcher and daily user of Manning Park. Despite his love of two wheels and a bush track, he says Cockburn council’s plans for a 15-kilometre mountain bike trail in Manning Park is over the top. 

A mountain biker enjoys one of the trails in New South Wales.

WHILE addressing the obvious demand for mountain bike trails in Manning Park through the formalisation of the trail network is welcome, the City of Cockburn’s Manning Park MTB Trail Network Draft Concept Plan (MPMTB) represents a massive overreach. 

It is incredibly difficult to envisage how such large-scale trail development and activation touching basically all areas of the significant and sensitive conservation-designated uplands could align with the environmental and amenity objectives of the various overarching plans that are in place to ensure the balanced management of Manning Park as a ‘place for all.’

From the critically endangered, federally listed Threatened Ecological Community, Tuart Woodlands – plans for the disturbance of which likely requires Australian government clearance – to the collapsing Redheart woodland and Acacia woodland (both unique to Manning Park on the Swan Coastal Plain), and for all the creatures from ant to human dependent on the park’s various ecosystems, restoration and protection Manning Park’s upland should be a priority.

Further segmentation, erosion, and compaction caused by the proliferation of trails, as well as increased visitation, are already adversely impacting sensitive plant and animal species that rely on the cover and forage provided by dense understory.

While formalised trails may address some of the erosion and other degradation issues caused by the unsanctioned MTB trails, the sheer extent of habitat dissection and hence fragmentation proposed clearly clashes with the conservation imperative of overarching plans and instruments. 

Look beyond the main concept map to Appendix A at the very back of the MPMTB and you’ll find a mind-boggling array of additional trails that would be so extremely dominating that the environment and all other users would certainly be subordinated. This would be an unacceptable environmental and broader community outcome.

Scaling the MPMTB back to what was outlined in the Manning Park Master Plan – intensive activity zones at the two quarries connected by the single Spearwood Ridge MTB Loop – would address demand for formal MTB trails, while also ensuring protection of what is largely a designated Bush Forever Site 247 conservation area and retention of Manning Park as a place for all.

Besides just a rethink on scale and intensity, there are other considerations that remain to be addressed. Given the financial hit imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, how will the city fund the capital and ongoing costs of this expensive plan? 

Revegetation

Where is the budget for the revegetation and environmental restoration, stated as necessary to the project’s success in MPMTB?  

How will the city manage the increased visitation and prevent the continued use of decommissioned trails? In the 10+ years I have been frequenting Manning Park, I’ve never come across a ranger in the upland area, so it’s difficult to envision the oversight change. 

Will conservation fences be all over the place? And just how all the MTB riders will be ‘clean on entry’ and ‘clean on exit’ with regards to plant diseases is a mystery. 

Also important to the consideration of who is driving and being served by all this effort for and expense of MTB – largely 28-45 year old, affluent men – is that the Cockburn Coast Golf Course, planned in adjacent bushland that also contains a remnant Tuart woodland, would serve a similar demographic. That is a significant portion of what is now public open space being devoted to one already comparatively well-served sector of the community.

From the organisation of the Manning Park MTB group, the park’s listing on TrailForks as an MTB destination, and the recent addition of unsanctioned, significant permanent infrastructure, it is clear that there is demand for MTB trails. 

However the MPMTB concept presented is just too extensive, and concentrated. And some in the MTB community have also exhibited poor behaviour – pulling out native vegetation and disturbing habitat to cut paths into the local woodland, and urinating in full public view – that they would do well to cease if they’d like to receive social license. 

A more modest MTB trail plan would allow the city to pursue other opportunities – such as improving the park’s natural environment and drawing attention to its considerable Indigenous and colonial heritage – to make the park a regional tourism drawcard. This would ensure a diversity of visitation and avert the likelihood of MTB domination.

Comment on the proposed bike trail is open until July 2 and accessible through the council’s website.

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