Beechworth to Yack and back | The Indigo Epic gets the go ahead


Bridge Road Brewery’s Ben Kraus grew up in Beechworth and has watched the mountain bike culture in town take hold. With Beechworth just around the corner from Yackandandah, these towns have become a hub for mountain biking in the Victorian High Country; however, they have never been officially connected with singletrack beyond a series of fire roads.

“We did have an unsanctioned link (from Beechworth) to Yackandandah through the HVP (Hancock Victorian Plantations) Plantation. They were all taken away one winter when HVP started a new thinning program, where they basically drive a bulldozer through their plantation every 10m or so in a straight line to clear the forest completely,” says Kraus.

Need to know

Just like that, the ribbon of dirt connecting two of the Victorian High Country’s most storied trail towns was flattened, an unfortunate but inevitable fate for an unsanctioned trail running through an active logging plantation.

Riders among the mossy rocks in Beechworth
Previously there had been an unsanctioned connection trail between Beechworth and Yackandandah, now a fully legal link is on the cards.

So Kraus and a few locals started looking at alternative routes, surveying the hills between the towns, considering existing infrastructure like fire roads, and avoiding HVP land so any new singletrack would not be destined for the same fate.

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Around this time, a consultant from Melbourne was poking around the Victorian High Country in search of investment opportunities, where the government could put money towards cycling infrastructure.

“We showed him the route and the concept; he then took that forward under his own steam to develop the idea even further. He put forward recommendations for each area within the high country, and I believe it (the Indigo Epic) was his number one recommendation as a high priority project,” says the Bridge Road Brewer.

An IMBA Epic trail that can be ridden year round? Where do we sign up?

The concept created a connection trail between Beechworth and Yackandandah, which would meet the IMBA Epic trail standards, taking riders through remote terrain, showing off the area’s natural beauty and integrating historical sites into the experience.

“It’s a remote bush trail that connects the towns of Yackandandah and Beechworth, but it’s not just about the singletrack, one of the main drivers is the historical element. There is quite a lot of gold mining history in that area of Northeast Victoria, which we want to integrate into the trail,” says Callum Brown, the Consulting Project Manager on behalf of the Indigo Shire Council. Brown is also the Director of Infrastructure at Falls Creek and oversaw the development of the mountain bike trail network in the alpine resort.

Mick riding through the granite in Beechworth
About 24km of new trail will be constructed between Beechworth and Yack.

Starting from the old Beechworth Railway Station, the Indigo Epic trail ends in the centre of the Yackandandah township, winding through the Beechworth Historic Park and Nine Mile Creek Historic Area, passing the famed Wallaby Mine and a near intact 12-head stamping battery used to extract gold.

All up, Brown tells us if you were to ride from Beechworth to Yack and back, it would be about a 54km trip, with roughly 42km of that being singletrack. The Indigo Epic Trail Project will see about 24km of new trails being constructed. The remainder incorporates parts of the existing Yack Tracks mountain bike network and shared-use trail in Beechworth Historic Park.

Beyond just the connection between the towns, the Indigo epic will open up a host of new loops you will be able to ride from either trail network.

At the time of writing, the Buller Epic trail is Australia’s one and only IMBA Epic and can only be ridden during the summer. The Indigo Epic will be the second and rideable year-round. In fact, Kraus reckons with the way the soils handle moisture, the trail surface will be at its best during the winter.

The proposed route crosses mostly through the Nine-Mile Creek Historic Area, and the trail will incorporate some of the old water races as climbing elements. Brown tells us they also plan to tidy up some of the old mining infrastructure to be used as ridable trail features.

The afterparty from our Ride High Country Test Session late last year; we rode around the region where the Epic trail will go through on old mining trails with our local friends. We can’t wait to see what the mountain bike-specific singletrack will look like.

“You end up at what’s called Kerry Eagle Peak, and from there, you can drop back down to Yackandandah via an eight-kilometre descending trail that traverses through the landscape. That descent from Kerry Eagle Peak will be the main showpiece of the trail. It will be this incredible flowy riding, through deep gullies and around rocky outcrops; it will be a special piece of trail,” Brown says.

The trails will incorporate some of the existing Yack Tracks

Kraus continues that while this descending trail won’t be uber steep and technical, it will be chock full of features and side hits that will allow a progressive rider to flex their creative muscles, but won’t come at the expense of accessibility for a less progressive or less skilled rider. Beyond just connecting the communities, the Indigo Epic, will also expand the riding options attached to the trail networks of both towns.

“Sure, there is an Epic trail that links Beechworth to Yack, but if you look at it more closely, there is a 16km loop from Beechworth back to Beechworth; there is a 30km loop from Yack back to Yack, it opens up so many possibilities.”

There is old mining infrastructure everywhere in this area of Victoria. The Indigo Epic will showcase and in some places incorporate it as ridable trail features.

What’s happening with the Indigo Shire Epic Trail?

Things were rolling right along; the council was on board and even won a federal grant in 2019, which provided financing to get the project over the line. Two years later, the Indigo Epic Trail is still rumbling forward, and the project has had to find innovative solutions to trail implementation in National Park areas.

The Indigo Epic trail will be the first time we are aware that a tourism infrastructure lease has been used in this manner.

Parks Victoria has a strict set of land management policies which puts constraints on the developments in the territory it looks after. Brown’s job is to find a way forward which satisfies Parks Victoria’s land management obligations, and also deliver a trail worth riding between Beechworth and Yackandandah.

That way forward came in the form of a tourism infrastructure lease, a process that exists under the Victorian National Parks Act. Brown says when they first approached Parks Victoria with the Epic Trail concept, the powers at be thought it would require extracting parcels of land from National Parks, which is a lengthy and difficult process. Luckily, such drastic measures were not necessary.

“We put together a proposal that shows the majority of what we are trying to achieve (with the Indigo Epic Trail) did align with the use of that land area. So it wasn’t something that their processes needed to constrain, and it wasn’t incongruous with what they are trying to do within the park,” he says.

“Normally, a tourism infrastructure lease is used for things like building boat sheds or ski huts in National Parks — often things used by clubs — and this is a totally new application of this clause,” says Brown. “This allows us to have infrastructure in place for the purpose of tourism, and we have an agreement with Parks about the use of that infrastructure which lasts for a period of time, nominally up to 10-years, with associated conditions of use.”

“It’s a good mechanism for us to be able to utilise areas of national parks because it allows Parks Vic to maintain control of the land area, but also ensure the liability for operating that infrastructure is with a third party under that agreement.”

“What’s most exciting is that we have been able to work with the land managers in new ways to enable these trails to happen,” he says.

Brown and his team have utilised a tourism infrastructure clause in the National Parks act to make this trail happen.

Brown tells Flow they have just received good news from Parks Victoria and under this agreement, it is happy in principle for the project to go ahead.

“I’m pretty confident we are through most of the hurdles at this point, and I don’t anticipate there being a showstopper in front of us. The lease does need to be signed off by the Minister for the Environment, so that’s the final step, and it’s with the Minister now.”

What do the locals think?

The council has been plugging away at this project in the background for some time, and when it was announced the mountain bike community in the area was unsurprisingly stoked.

“Initially, there was tonnes of excitement, and it’s one of the reasons why my family moved here. We knew this was coming, and it was going to be this amazing mountain bike destination close to the snow that offered the ability to ride year-round,” says Lynn Frerichs, President of the Beechworth Chain Gang.

Beechworth and Yackandandah locals are proud of their trails, and the Epic trail is no exception. Frerichs tells us the clubs will be working together to maintain the trails and keep everything riding well.

Riders pins a corner
The Indigo Epic is sure to attract visitors from all over Australia, but you can be the locals will be taking full advantage

As with any project, whether it’s trails or tennis courts, somebody somewhere will be opposed, and there is a small but vocal group who are disappointed money is being spent on mountain biking in the region.

“There does seem to be a public voice of concern about the amount of money that goes towards cycling, and there are people in the community that feel like footpaths need to be upgraded before we go and put in cycling infrastructure,” says Kraus. “But, whenever things get done, people think somewhere else should have something done first.”

The trails in Beechworth and Yackandandah are well established, however with newer networks that offer more singletrack than you can ride in a week, the allure of this pocket of the Victorian High Country has waned.

“From a business perspective and when it comes to visitation, Beechworth has probably become a bit tired in the scheme of riding destinations. Anyone that rides here loves it, but it’s just not that high on people’s agenda anymore. Having this Yack to Beechworth link in place will bring back some interest in the area,” says Kraus.

As it stands, you can ride every trail in Beechworth in a day, and most of the Yack Tracks in two.

“It will definitely draw people to the community and convert those day-trippers, to overnight tourists. So it will be huge for both communities,” says Frerichs. “It’s a gorgeous place to visit; with all of our heritage buildings, freshwater gorges, swimming holes and gold panning — there is so much you can do here. This will be such a great piece to tie in the history of mining and aboriginal history as well.

This will be a massive asset for the shire. Not just one community, but it will be huge for Beechworth and Yackandandah. I think we really need to celebrate that this is not just for the tourists. There is a substantial percentage of the communities in Beechworth and Yackandandah, both young and old, that will be using it regularly.” says Frerichs.

Yack tracks
At either end, the Indigo Epic will incorporate sections of both the Beechworth trails and the Yack Tracks.

What’s happening next?

Construction of stage one of the Indigo Epic Trail has already been completed, with a section of multi-use trail along Yackandandah Creek, which connects the Yack Tracks network to town. Brown says now that Parks Victoria has given them the go-ahead to move forward with the planning application, he hopes to begin construction of stage two and three next summer.

“The Epic Trail will be an immersive natural and cultural mountain biking experience like no other in the region. We are super excited to be finally delivering this project,” says Brown

For updates on the Indigo Epic Trail, head over to the council’s website.


Flow has been to Beechworth and Yackandandah more times than we can count over the years, and have used these networks as a testing ground for the Canyon Spectral 29 as part of our Ride High Country Test Sessions. If you can’t get enough granite slabs and Yack Tracks follow the links below for more from the Indigo Shire, or head over to the Ride High Country playlist over on the Flow YouTube Channel.

 

 

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