Just twenty minutes from Ballarat sits the sleepy little town of Creswick, where chef Paul Williams has just spent the night prepping delicious pastries that are headed for the display case in his French bakery, Le Péché Gourmand. Situated on the main drag, Williams’ patisserie is about 400m from Hammond Park, the trailhead for the proposed Creswick MTB destination.
Surrounded by rolling farmland, Creswick is already the home of the Goldfields Track, the RACV Goldfields Resort, which has 7km of trails, and there is a network of unsanctioned trails through the forest and pine plantations in the area, but the council have put together a plan to develop 100km of singletrack.
“We have a really good network here of unsanctioned trails, and with the RACV and the Goldfields track as well. You can jump on your bike for an hour, hour and a half do a 25km ride, and you don’t have to go far — it’s great,” says Willaims. “I’m really excited that we will have all legal trails, and we going to get all sorts of people coming out to ride.”
Need to know
- Creswick is an old mining town located 18km from Ballarat and 123km from Melbourne.
- The Hepburn Shire Council is in the process of bringing a 100km trail network to the town.
- There is an existing unsanctioned trail network in addition to the Goldfields Track and RACV Gold Fields Resort trails.
- If all goes according to plan, the project will go out for construction tender once the planning permit issued, and stage one will be complete in mid to late 2023.
The Creswick MTB project has been bubbling away for over a decade and came about after the town was inundated by floodwater in 2009.
“The council did a ton of community engagement to work out how the town could best recover, and the concept for the trail network was born back then,” Emma Martin, President of the VOGA (Villages of the Old Gold Fields Association) Cycling Club tells Flow.
The Creswick MTB Destination will be constructed in two stages; the first stage will see 60km of trail cut north of Melbourne Road, with the remaining 40km on the south side of the highway.
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When complete the network will be comprised of 11 zones, meandering up Brackenbury Hill, running past St Georges Lake and Cosgrove Reservoir and connecting into the Goldfields Track and the trails at the RACV Goldfields Resort.
“Each zone we’ve identified is based around the ride experience you’re likely to encounter in that area — you can almost look at them as little pocket parks,” says Deon Baker, Head Builder with Common Ground Trails, which put together the concept plan.
“It’s quite a diverse site. Even though the native forest itself is quite uniform and similar, the topography changes, and pine plantations as well, which changes things quite a lot. There are a few areas that are naturally rocky, and it’s all that craggy technically rocky stuff. The rest is silty clay, so it will be fast-rolling when it’s set because there is not a lot of texture to the ground to slow you up. So you can have that mellow gradient trail that ducks and weaves through trees and still holds a lot of rolling speed.”
The area surrounding Creswick isn’t brimming with vertical drop; however, there are foothills hills and lots of them.
“It’s all sort of small hills of about 100m (vertical) or so, but it will make for that really good trail riding that gives you lots of climbs and descents,” Baker says. “If you were to rock up on a smaller travel trail bike and go for a couple of hours with your mates, it will be a really fun place to ride.”
The Hepburn Shire Council has also made adaptive rider-friendly trails a foundation of the proposed network.
“The goal is to have at least 30% of the network to be adaptive suitable. That will be a continuously connected network, not little fragments of trails, all leaving from the trailhead at Hammond Park — which also has accessible toilets and a changing place,” says Creswick Trails Project Manager Alison Breach.
“I think it was a really good call for the project group to say this site suits having slightly wider trails to create those loops for people on handcycles,” continues Baker.
There is gold in them thar hills
Situated on the land of the Dja Dja Wurrung Traditional Owners, gold mining brought settlers to the region — hence Goldfields — Creswick is also home to the original Victorian School of Forestry.
“This is an area that was mined, and it was logged; it’s absolutely chock full of mining heritage. There is quite a bit of sluice mining evidence as well as water races, and there is an intact system smack bang in the middle (of the network),” says Breach.
“We’ve also been working with the Dja Dja Wurrung to identify areas of cultural heritage. Where we can, the plan is to incorporate that type of history into the trail network either at decision points or along the trails,” she continues.
Baker tells Flow that while the north side of the network has some old mining infrastructure dotted throughout the forest, the south side has some groundwork that can be directly integrated into the trail network.
“With the way Slatey Creek runs, it creates all these little folds and gullies in the landscape. There is this old water race that was built back in the 1800s when they were mining, which bypassed all of that, following the contours of the little gullies and got you back to Melbourne road really quick. It would make for a really cool return trail back from some of the loops out there,” he says.
Because of this history, thirteen local governments in the Victorian Gold Fields Region, including Hepburn Shire Council, have placed a bid to become UNESCO World Heritage-listed. The sentiment from the Creswick locals and the council is that the trail network might give the bid an extra nudge towards reality.
Small towns around the country are realising that bringing mountain bike trails to the area can turbocharge the local economy. So while Creswick is already somewhere people go for a weekend away, the locals are ready for shovels to hit the dirt.
Just last month, Breach and her team exhibited the Permit Planning Application so that the local community could have their say on what the council had put together.
“We did get a couple of objections, but we also got 91-letters of support. Any big planning application is going to get some objections, but most of the objections came from outside the municipality,” says Breach. “But the 91-letters of support is unbelievable — this never happens, people never actually take the time to write in an say, ‘we love this, we need this.'”
This level of support didn’t just appear out of thin air, and the council has used data as the driving force behind all of its community engagement to alleviate any concerns raised by the townsfolk.
“We ended up walking the entire stage one alignment with an arborist, an ecologist, and a trail builder, and GPS tagging over 20,000 trees so that we could explain the science behind the actual alignment,” Breach tells Flow. “We could go back and say if we microsite the trail a little bit to the right of that tree, the tree dies. If we go a little bit to the left of that tree, the tree is saved; great, let’s go to the left.”
Williams is excited about the network, not only just because he is a mountain biker but also for what it will do for his town.
“When I first came here, it was just an aging population, and there weren’t many young people around. I’m really hoping that will flip around, and we will get a lot of young families moving here,” he says.
Martin offered a similar sentiment, “I’m looking forward to the diversity that it’s going to bring to the town and the accessibility for all people. I’m excited that people will be out there using the bush and discovering the history of our town, and I’m looking forward to my kids being able to use the trails.”
With the proximity to Ballarat and Melbourne, Hepburn Shire Council has just submitted their planning permit to construct the trails at Creswick. The timing of how the project can progress is completely dependant upon when the permit is issued. Breach is hoping if all things go according to plan that the first riders will hit the trails by 2023.
The local beta
Creswick is a 20-minute drive from Ballarat and an hour and a half drive from Melbourne.
About 15-min up the road is Daylesford, best known for its natural hot springs, the ideal recovery after a day of riding.
Everyone we spoke to said the best place in town to grab a coffee and a snack was Le Péché Gourmand. The advantage of this patisserie being run by a mountain biker is Williams can let you know what trails are firing at the moment.
If you’re after a pub meal and a beer, The American Creswick and the Farms Arms Hotel won’t steer you astray. A stone’s throw up the road is Ballarat, and there are more options than you can shake a riser bar at; we’re looking forward to trying Dollar Bill Brewing when the cellar door opens and stopping in at the Buninyong Brewery, which has been around since 1855.
To stay in the loop about all the developments in Creswick, head over to the Creswick Trails website.
Photos: Daylesford Macedon Tourism and Cycle West