By Kath Gannaway
A group of Gruyere residents opposed to a proposal to develop Warramate Nature Conservation Reserve as a legal mountain bike riding park say they fear their voices are being drowned out.
Submissions on a proposal by mountain bike advocacy group Yarra Ranges Mountain Biker Club (YRMTB) to legalise 28 kilometres of illegal trails are due in to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) within weeks.
DELWP is the landowner with Parks Victoria managing the reserve.
Parks Victoria say they closed illegal mountain bike trails in Warramate Nature Conservation Reserve over 12 months ago.
Friends of Warramate Reserve, a group which wants to see the reserve kept as a fauna and flora reserve have mounted a petition supporting their view, but say they fear the weight of thousands of mountain bikers will tip the scales.
FoWR treasurer John Lloyd says while the rules and regulations for the reserve are clear-cut, Parks Victoria has allowed mountain bikers to build tracks through the bush over the past five or so years.
“The reserve is classified for conservation so there are restrictions on what can and can’t go on there and all the information around that states that you cannot go in and interfere with fauna or flora in any way,” Mr Lloyd said.
Bike riding is allowed on the main trail through the park, but not otherwise, he said.
He said however over the past five years mountain bikers had been making illegal bike trails and in the process cutting down trees, clearing bush and bringing in materials for jumps and bridges.
Mr Lloyd said the area is enjoyed by bushwalkers and bird watching groups but when bike riding was at its peak the park was inundated with cars and riders who were noisy, left rubbish around and built tracks without regard to the environmental impact.
He said no environmental studies had been done on the park and rejected the argument that the land had historically been used for grazing cattle, logged and mined.
“They (mountain bike supporters) say the land is of low (environmental) significance, but since farming ceased it has regenerated and there is a great deal of birdlife and other fauna in the reserve,” Mr Lloyd said.
President of Yarra Ranges Mountain Bikers (YRMTB) Damian Auton confirmed that the group, which is an advocacy group for mountain bike riders, had lodged applications for authorisation of trails at Warramate.
Mr Auton said the group was an advocacy group whose role it was to make the most of opportunities for mountain bikers on public land by working with public land managers.
He said they had been working with DELWP and Parks Victoria for five years and had lodged applications for authorisation of trails at Warramate.
“We are not in the business of making trails,” he said. “We are an advocacy group that land managers can talk to in regard to any mountain bike trails on public land.”
He said the situation at Warramate was typical of other areas which had developed organically on public land with bike riders making trails in areas that lent themselves to that pursuit.
Mr Auton said YRMBT had put in a submission two and a half years ago seeking authorisation of 28 kilometres of existing trails.
He said the process requires DELWP and Parks Victoria consider a range of criteria including historical, cultural and environmental considerations.
In response to concerns that the mountain bike lobby would swamp the submission process, he said the decision ultimately would be made by DELWP and Parks Victoria on the basis of submissions and the relevant criteria.
Parks Victoria Area Chief Ranger Conrad Annal said rangers had noticed a significant reduction in the numbers of mountain bike riders using the park in the past year.
“Signage was installed, rangers frequently patrol the park and Parks Victoria has been working with the Yarra Ranges Mountain Bikers to ensure trails are not used or built in Warramate Nature Conservation Reserve,” Mr Annal said.
“Parks Victoria has also been liaising with the Friends of the Warramate regarding the trail closures.“