Located about halfway between Sydney and Melbourne, Eden, NSW, is a boom town. Timber and commercial fishing were the foundation on which the small coastal community was built. But when the cannery shut down in 1999 and regional sawmills began to shutter, the local economy transitioned to what Stan Soroka from the Eden Mountain Bike Club calls a ‘squirrel economy.’
“We have to put our acorns away from Christmas and Easter, and that has to last us through the rest of the year because it just goes quiet,” he says.
This is a familiar story for beach towns around the country. During the busy period, the population of these towns more than doubles, and business booms. But during the rest of the year, not so much. And as with so many other places around Australia hoping to even out their seasonal tourism industry, Eden has turned to mountain bikes to fill that gap with a new 56km, gravity oriented trail network.
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Out of the fires comes trails
The bushfires that ravaged NSW’s South Coast hit Eden pretty hard, with 37 homes lost and countless acres of forest charred.
Before the fires, Soroka and fellow long time Eden resident Fiona Campbell had been working away on a plan to bring mountain bikers to their corner of the world, and formed the Eden Trails Committee.
“Golfing is just about dead. Bowling is dead, and tennis is dead. What’s growing is mountain biking — every car that comes up from the city, what do they have on the back? Bikes! They just need somewhere to ride,” say Soroka.
There are about 8km of existing community built trails in Eden, which will be incorporated into the network. But of course, that’s not enough to attract riders from far and wide, and Eden Trails has much bigger plans.
They (Forestry Corp) have these massive tracts of land, and there are massive opportunities for recreational use, whether that be mountain biking or something else.
World Trail came in to conduct a destination audit, and Eden Trails partnered with Lucid Economics to put together a business plan and seek funding. After the fires had passed, Soroka received a call from NSW Regional Development, who pointed him towards a bushfire recovery grant.
“They said you had better have a look at this, and please note that mountain biking is mentioned here seven times. So we put an application in for 4.6-million-dollars and were successful,” he says.
Don’t even put a toe on Crown land
The project in Eden isn’t driven by the council or a government entity, but instead, it’s fueled by passionate locals. You can’t just build mountain bike trails on any parcel of land, so Eden Trails had to find an amenable land manager who would get behind the development. With the town’s history in the timber industry, Forestry Corp NSW manages quite a bit of land in the area, and over the years, has shown an interest in working with mountain bikers.
“They (Forestry Corp) have these massive tracts of land, and there are massive opportunities for recreational use, whether that be mountain biking or something else. They get that, and are proactively chasing those opportunities,” says Craig Meinicke from Blue Sky Trails, who is co-managing the project along with Craig Stonestreet from Natural Trails.
The plot of land selected is in Nullica State Forest just west of Eden, and should Stage 2 go ahead the network will continue onto Mt Bimmil. This is in a working forest, and there is the possibility that it could be harvested down the road. Soroka tells Flow it’s not a productive area, and so it’s not something he or anyone involved in the project is losing sleep over. He also tells Flow that even with the chance the trails may be logged in the future, they made a concerted effort to avoid the use of Crown Land throughout this process.
“We stayed on forestry land and did not step one centimetre onto crown land because then you have to go to an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement). Most of the (forestry) land around here had already been logged in the past, so all of the studies and assessments have already been done,” says Soroka.
He also tells us Foresty NSW has teed up one of the remaining sawmills in the area to donate all of the materials for the trailhead, benches, wooden features, and the like.
A test for Contour works
It’s definitely the biggest mountain bike project Contour Works has taken on. It’s very exciting for us and something that we’re really keen to get started on, and to prove ourselves.
World Trail put together the concept design for Eden, which includes 20 trails totally 56km and about 300m of vertical drop, but Contour Works, the new trail building company owned by Ryan De La Rue and Evan Winton, has won the tender for construction.
If those names sound familiar, that’s because they both got their start under the tutelage of Glen Jacobs and were builders on the machines at destinations like Derby, St Helens and Mount Buller.
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Contour Works has just completed a revamp of the XC trails on Mount Buller and runs the ongoing maintenance at Smithfield, but this will be their first ever start to finish destination build since leaving World Trail.
“It’s definitely the biggest mountain bike project Contour Works has taken on. It’s very exciting for us and something that we’re really keen to get started on and to prove ourselves,” says De La Rue.
“The design in Eden is really well set out, and the terrain looks really cool. Even without having put any equipment on the ground (yet), it already looks like it’s going to be a really good network,” he continues.
De La Rue is not the only one to say so. The design of the network has caught the attention of Jason Dover, the Port to Port and Quad Crown course designer, who told Flow the Quaddie Saphire Coast stop would be focused around Eden.
The existing trails will be incorporated into the new stacked loop beginner trails situated on the toe of the hillside, as it’s the flattest part of the site.
From there, everything moves up, where the terrain gets bigger and steeper. A few loops follow Nethercote Road, which is paved, up the hill and meet at nodes which will also be the shuttle dropoffs.
They have a lot of elevation to work with, which is over 300m at the highest point, so there is a lot more opportunity for shuttling, but also to ride up and descend back down.
“Each of those points has its own ridgeline that runs back to the trailhead. So the first shuttle dropoff will be your beginner-intermediate descent. The middle ridge is more direct and will be a more advanced descent, and then the furthest ridgeline has a longer, adventure/wilderness trail which is about 8km — that one will be another blue descent,” says De La Rue.
With Eden’s proximity to the coast, both De La Rue and Soroka have touted the epic views from certain areas of the network, but that’s not the only influence from the ocean.
“The riding surface is a bit different. It’s this sort of sandy loam. There’s also some natural rock slab, and we’ll be able to incorporate a lot of cool natural features into the trail,” he says.
Best of all, the trailhead is situated just behind the Eden Golf Course and is only a short pedal from town, meaning once you park at your accommodation, you won’t need your car again until you leave.
Where will Eden fit in?
NSW’s South Coast is a hotbed for mountain bike trail developments, with Mogo and Narooma also on the go. With three notable destinations in the works within 200km of one another and Tathra already established, it begs the question, where does Eden fit in?
“Eden is definitely the most gravity focused,” says Craig Stonestreet from Natural Trails, who is also co-Project Managing Narooma. “They have a lot of elevation to work with, which is over 300m at the highest point, so there is a lot more opportunity for shuttling, but also to ride up and descend back down.”
The layout also demonstrates how riding destinations have evolved to better serve the style of riding folks gravitate towards and the equipment they’re using.
“It always used to be stacked loops, where now a lot more thought is being put in initially about how people might be able to shuttle to multiple dropoffs. With e-Bikes as well, there are more people who are going to want to do multiple loops and the descents. I think Eden will definitely appeal to people who want to do mostly descending but also to the people who can go out and put a few hours into doing bigger loops,” says De La Rue.
Soroka also notes that everyone is on the same side when it comes to attracting riders to the area, and they are working closely with their neighbouring destinations. The goal is not to be adversarial; each destination is working together and leaning on the strengths of what they have to offer as a wider destination, rather than acting as individuals.
Eden is already set up as a tourist destination
Let’s also not forget not all of your time on a riding trip is spent on the bike. Even though each of these destinations is within throwing distance of the beach, each has a unique offering. Eden has about 3,000 local residents, but there are beds to sleep in excess of 20,000 people during the holidays. They have an airport, an established brewery, gin distilleries, and restaurants — you name it, this tiny town probably has it.
“There is so much hiking and untouched beaches. We’ve got a cruise ship port here, and we’ve got whale watching that starts in September and runs all the way through. We’ve now got winter whale watching too, because the killer whales have come back after all of those years,” he says.
Contour Works hit the ground on May 23 and aims to have a suite of trails open in September in time for the school holidays.
Photos: Matthew Perrin, Ryan De La Rue / Contour Works, Kramer Photography, Destination NSW