Trail network under a cloud

Taelor PeluseyBusselton Dunsborough Times
A member of Cape Mountain Bikers tackles a Whicher Range trail.
Camera IconA member of Cape Mountain Bikers tackles a Whicher Range trail.

The future of Whicher Range’s 30km trail network is under a cloud after flora surveying identified trail users may be affecting several rare and endangered species.

The survey has put mountain bikers and government departments at odds over how to manage the network, which could be restricted to about 20 per cent of its current size.

The Cape Mountain Bikers are optimistic they can manage any threats to wildlife by working closely with the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions through a trail adoption agreement signed under the previous government in 2016.

However, a DBCA spokeswoman said there was evidence mountain bikers and walkers had spread dieback and the closure of some trails was likely needed to prevent further spread.

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“The department is committed to working with local mountain bike groups to identify suitable alternative track and trail locations which minimise the impact on the conservation values of the area, while still providing for challenging and accessible trail options to suit a range of mountain bike user skill sets,” she said.

The spokeswoman said the department understood mountain bikers had no intention of harming the environment but many unauthorised trails occurred near important plant communities, resulting in individual plant deaths.

It is understood one of the “alternative” tracks being considered is the conversion of a nearby gravel pit into a mountain biking park.

But CMB president Andrew Spencer-Wright said it would be difficult to keep people off the popular trails — particularly with demand for trails already not being met.

“What we don’t want is to lose trails because historically what you see is when demand isn’t met, people go out there and make their own,” he said.

“We don’t want people doing that. That’s a worse environmental outcome.

“We’ve shown we’ve been good custodians of that area ... and I know we can manage any environmental risks.”

Last month, the Times reported on mountain bikers’ frustrations with the lagging South West Mountain Bike Master Plan.

The plan, released in 2015, proposed 105km of trail be constructed by the end of last year but just half that target was met.

Vasse MLA Libby Mettam echoed Mr Spencer-Wright’s concerns and stressed the need to meet demand for the fast-growing sport.

“The reality is that the trails will continue to be accessed by both mountain bike riders and walkers and given the limited resources to manage park visitors, it makes sense to work together and create a gateway of least resistance,” she said.

“Mountain bike riding is now one of the leading tourist attractions and, notwithstanding the MTB parks that are being created, it is the experience of riding on trails through the bush that is the drawcard.”

Environment Minister Stephen Dawson said there were 13 plant species and many unique threatened and priority ecological communities in the park.

He said he looked forward to “seeing a resolution that ensures conservation values are upheld in Whicher Range National Park while enabling people to get out and enjoy our parks and wildlife”.

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