Planning for new recreation needs 

FRANCIS KOTAI is a memberof the Manning Park Mountain Bike group and has been riding in the reserve on and off for nearly 20 years. He says a proposed mountain bike trail in Manning Park isn’t rewarding illegal trail riders, it’s acknowledging changing recreation patterns that should be catered for with proper planning so all users can co-exist in the park.  

At the trailheads around Perth the people I see look pretty normal, and probably wouldn’t identify with the tag bulldozers of the south-west.

They appear mostly to be families with high environmental values and would be scratching their heads at such a comment seen in the Herald.

The City of Cockburn has initiated a comprehensive process of master planning for the reserve with extensive consultation and inclusion of trails. 

The immediate question is why should this be supplanted on the premise that it’s acceptable to exclude people based on their recreational pursuits and assumption that they are ignorant of the reserve’s environmental significance? 

Generalising about people in a derogatory way, especially in public forums, isn’t a great way to make a point. The importance of moderate opinions is important to the process as people who seek to generalise and vilify others as a tactic may derail the process of community participation.

They should be called out for doing so, regardless of the city’s determination on the trail proposal.

Opponents claim the 110 hectare reserve is too small and yet this hasn’t been the experience of trail users that have coexisted throughout the reserve for at least the last 15 to 20 years.

It’s fair to say areas around the ruin and south of the lake are incompatible with riding but this doesn’t mean it can’t be accommodated in the broader reserve. 

The vocal opposition is keen to denigrate riders but are strangely silent when it comes to opposition for the road reserve along the ridge that would remove more forage habitat and limestone karst than trails ever would.

This area sits beyond the standard walking catchment from the lake but is well used by riders and runners who travel further in their activities. 

Whilst the city doesn’t support construction of the road, the reserve remains stubbornly on the MRS and should this develop further the ridge will need as many friends as it can get. 

Rather than looking to exclude people it would be a better strategy for a friend’s group to foster broad community support for the city’s position and lobby for removal of the reserve from the MRS. 

Bush Forever policy defines greenways as networks of land containing linear elements that are planned, designed and managed for multiple purposes including ecological, recreational, cultural, aesthetic purposes compatible with the concept of sustainable land use. 

As such the status of the reserve as a Bush Forever site does not preclude consideration of trails.

The sustainability of managed trails should be implicit as they are the lowest impact access that can be implemented in both environmental and visual senses. 

The proposal also aims to use the heavily modified quarries which, due to a lack of soil, would be difficult to rehabilitate and in the broader reserve, some existing trails would be rehabilitated.

The trails are not being implemented to the exclusion of other reserve users, as initial criticism claimed, and planning is  necessary to manage the increased use.

The city has a working group which, as an example of subsidiarity, should be commended for allowing the community to have a greater say in decision making rather than trying to escalate it as a federal matter under the EPBC. 

The working group is the forum in which to negotiate which parts of the reserve are not suitable for trail development rather than expecting this to be set at the reserve boundary.

The trail proposal was first discussed in 2012 and in the decade since there has been environmental impact from unmanaged trail building that detractors can cite, but no opportunity to show what is meant by sustainably managed trails or formal avenues to develop a code of conduct. 

The frustration with illegal trail building can be appreciated but enabling managed trails isn’t a case of rewarding bad behaviour, it’s acknowledging that societal expectations for recreation are shifting and regional open spaces need to be planned, designed and managed in response.

Experiencing the timeline first-hand it’s clear the conflict began in earnest when trails were built in the south-east of the reserve and had managed trails been implemented earlier it is likely this could have been avoided. 

It appears, with this latest round of bad press, that there is widespread resistance to the trail proposal however anecdotally, most people I speak to would prefer to see a more rational and collegial approach being taken. 

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