A plan to create an 82km network of mountain bike trails on the Illawarra Escarpment has received the tick of approval from riders.
The draft Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Strategy was put on public exhibition on Tuesday.
The plan outlines a network of 82 kilometres of trails on Mount Keira, Mount Kembla and Balgownie, which will be delivered over three stages.
The draft concept aims to formalise a range of existing trails, including enduro, back country/wilderness trail riding, beginner-friendly trails and downhill riding segments to meet the growing demand for the sport.
Gary Pesavento is an member of the Illawarra Mountain Bike Alliance, a group of bike riders which has advocated for legal access to mountain bike trails on the escarpment for years.
“The announcement is an extraordinary milestone,” he said. “This network will be significant because there are no other legal trails in the Illawarra.
“Riders will be able to go up to the trails without breaking the law.”
Wollongong Mountain Bike Club president Dekka O’Dywer said he was pleased the escarpment would now be “used to its full potential” and he was “excited” the next step had been taken in the creation of the trail network.
He said riders had told him the illegal trails had “the most beautiful views” and the Illawarra was the perfect location to create the network.
Mr Pesavento said the network of trails opened up a mountain of possibilities.
“There is now the potential to hold events on the mountain,” he said. “We can also promote Illawarra as a legitimate place to go mountain bike riding which will boost tourism.
“The trails will bring a lot of people into the region which will create business and job opportunities.
“Mountain bike riding is one of the most rapidly growing sports in the world.
“The sport has a broad demographic from young to old people.
“We know from surveys that many mountain bike riders are middle-aged and have disposable income. They are happy to travel and to spend money on accommodation and at restaurants and cafes.
“That’s why this trail network will have a significant benefit to the Illawarra.
“There are no other mountain bike trail projects of this scale in NSW.”
Mr Pesavento said he was pleased the environment and cultural heritage aspects on the mountain had been recognised and considered in the strategy.
“Illegal mountain bike riding happens on Mount Keira every day,” he said. “The unregulated trails are not sustainable.
“The professionally-designed trails avoid the most ecologically and culturally sensitive areas.
“Mountain bike riders think sustainably and want to be sensitive to other users.”
The rider said he was also excited for the latter stages of the strategy to be developed because there are plans for the mountain bike network, if it proceeds, to connect to the road cycling network.
“With the 20022 UCI Road World Championships and the creation of this trail network, Wollongong really will be a cycling destination,” he said.
Mr Pesavento and Mr O’Dwyer reminded residents to put in a submission telling the government why they supported the formalisation of the trail network.
The consultation period closes on December 10. Submissions should be in writing and be as detailed and specific as possible, however, any comments are welcome.
Comments should be forwarded to: The Manager, National Parks and Wildlife Service Highlands-Illawarra Area, PO Box 5436, Wollongong NSW 2520 or Illawarra.firstname.lastname@example.org