Trails help connect us

FRANCIS KOTAI is a landscape architect and a member of the Manning Park Mountain Bike group which is championing Cockburn Council’s proposed mountain bike trail across its ridges. He’s been riding in the reserve off-and-on since 2003 and says there’s much good to be drawn from the concept.

FOR two editions now the Herald has run articles about the proposed mountain bike trails drawn from people in the community that are opposed to the proposal on various levels. 

The first were conservationists and the second was Mr Thomason who through a carefully worded byline has been presented as a rider therefore knowledgeable about both sides of the debate but who’s offering is focused on environmental degradation, antisocial behaviour and the ‘social license’ that mountain bike riders are taking.

If you step back seven years, when a fledgling trail network was emerging, you’d know that mountain bike riders brought passive surveillance and developed trails popular with walkers and runners increasing usage in a way that would never have been possible through a formal design process. 

Riders are integral to the current mix of reserve users and recent comments that seek to berate and diminish their positive contribution have missed this. 

The environmental management frameworks used to form a counterargument to the trail proposal have also failed to address the impacts of the use because they weren’t designed to accommodate it.

We are straddling a grey area between recreational planning and environmental management as community uses change largely because people are waking up to the negative impacts of sedentary suburban lifestyles. 

We are large mammals that don’t hunt, gather or farm and our natural predilection is to move through terrain. 

Areas like Manning Park are naturally attractive, especially in contrast to the hopelessly car-dominated urban fabric that makes up our daily surrounds. 

What we should be aiming for isn’t a trail ‘destination’ but regional trail ‘connectivity’ that recognises this form of access and seeks to foster it as a key component of the area’s livability.

At Manning Park some good trails have been built, some bad and a loose association of riders has formed with around 600 members on the Facebook page – to give you a sense of the numbers. 

For younger riders it’s a close ride from home, for some of us older riders have kids and other responsibilities that preclude weekend drives to the Hills – it’s convenient. 

The ground here is boggy sand, it isn’t great for riding in summer and we could use some help getting the trails into better shape and reining in the environmental damage from the poorer trail builds. 

We’d also like to see the energy of kids building jumps throughout the Fremantle-Cockburn area fostered not only on the trail but to give them sustainable transport and recreational choices in the neighbourhoods they’ll inherit.   

So, rather than seeking prohibition, which doesn’t work, development of a plan that can accommodate the use should be a high priority. 

Riders have never asked for increased amenity, parking or the trappings that usually come with council projects. 

We want a local riding destination that we can ride to from home with any project funds used for trail development, bush rehabilitation and to increase non-competitive rider participation to diversify the rider demographic. 

If the scale of the plan is an issue, and it is with some riders too, then provide constructive response about which areas shouldn’t be developed.

And if the money’s still an issue, perhaps defund the Port Coogee Golf Course, an ecologically destructive recreational monoculture proposed for the ridge south of Manning Park, then allocate the developer contributions to an extended reserve that offers more diversified trails in combination with habitat preservation which is an obvious priority. 

Once Cockburn Coast is built out with high-rise as planned, the future inhabitants, reserve users and foraging bird species will be thankful for the foresight.      

The riders would like to continue to be a force for good in the reserve and participate in regeneration efforts. We are resourceful, integral members of this community and can imagine a better model for reserve management. 

Work in tandem

Not one in which we are ‘given’ a trail but that we work in tandem with all groups towards a safe trail network that enhances the areas environmental qualities. 

This work should become a benchmark for developing ‘connectivity without concrete’ providing alternatives to the road-footpath approach that is largely destructive to local landscape character.

The big picture should be a trail network spanning from Clontarf Hill to Woodman Point and on to Mt Brown. To connect all these destinations by bike so they can all be accessed without riding on roads and to fill that scar left by Main Roads on the reserve’s southside with trails and say a road will never be built along this ridge.

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