Before there was Derby or Mount Buller and even before Melrose, Forrest was the place where mountain bikers travelled from far and wide to ride. Nestled in the Otways, the trails opened in the mid-2000s and have hosted events like the Otway Odyssey for going on two decades. In that time, a lot of things have changed.
“It’s got a good few years behind it now, and some of the trails were built before we really knew anything about sustainable trail building,” says Sandy Maxwell, President of the Forrest Mountain Bike Club. “Because of its age, it’s had a lot of traffic, and the environment it’s built-in is pretty wet, especially over winter, and the trails do suffer from some drainage and erosion issues.”
Need to know
- The Forrest Mountain Bike trails are getting an upgrade to improve sustainability.
- Crews are currently winterising Red Carpet.
- Up to 38km of new trail will be on the cards once the revitalisation project is complete.
The trails at Forrest are well worn, so the Council, in collaboration with DWELP, Barwon Water, and Parks Victoria, has announced this historic network will receive a nip and tuck to improve sustainability and evolve trail features to match modern bikes and riders.
“It’s probably not as sexy as opening up a brand new mountain bike park, but the (Forrest MTB) club and DWELP do a lot of the maintenance. If we can get the trails winter-proofed and improve the sustainability of some of the features, we will be able to enjoy them for longer with less work,” he says.
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“Forrest has a pretty good reputation as a family-friendly network, but we also want to add in more of those features that the guys (and girls) who are riding bigger travel bikes, or have different expectations nowadays, that there is something there for them as well,” says Maxwell.
Originally constructed to stimulate the local economy with tourism when native logging operations were ceased in the area, at the time, Forrest was the benchmark to which all other trail networks were measured. However, with the proliferation of mountain bikes, and new trail networks popping up around the country, Forrest has faded, being outshined by fresher and bigger destinations.
With this rejuvenation effort, Forrest aims to take back the acclaim it earned in the early days and attract more riders to the Otways.
What’s happening in Forrest?
These upgrades are thanks to $2.23-million in funding from Forest Fire Management Victoria and the Colac Otway Shire, which has allowed for weatherproofing of the trails. Maxwell says the first stage of works will focus on the network south of town because the soil is more susceptible to erosion, and the ground in the Yaugher network on the north end of town tends to drain better. The second stage of this revitalisation will see the creation of up to 38km of new trails in Forrest.
“It’s very exciting to have construction begin, as it follows years of planning, design work and community consultation with Colac Otway Shire Council to make this a reality,” said FFMVic Otway District Manager David Roberts.
“The Red Carpet Trail is one of the most adventurous and dynamic trails in the network – and the high-quality upgrade of this trail will be a demonstration of what we’re looking to achieve across the entire network.
A real highlight of the works in the next 12 months will be our delivery of the Barwon Flow circuit of trails. At the moment, most of the network’s trails are cross-country trails, so the beginner and intermediate jump flow trails will deliver a new experience and a new challenge for riders,” Roberts said.
The upgrade will also see improvements to Forrest Trailhead with new facilities, new signage and a pump track and skills park.
Upgrading Red Carpet
Adrian Marriner from Living Trails built many of the trails in and around Forrest back in the early 2000s — hence ‘Marriner’s Run,’ a black trail in the Yaugher network, north of town — and has come full circle to begin the upgrade and winterisation of Red Carpet.
At 4.5km in length, the Red Carpet is mostly descending, offering about vertical 216-metres of gravity. Marriner tells us it’s the handy work of a variety of different trail builders who have come in over the years, including IMBA’s Joey Klein, who ran workshops on hand-building trails here in the early 2000s.
“We constantly see people ride through there in groups, and if you are strung out, there are no opportunities for multiple lines, duplicate trails, fast lines, slow lines, and there is really nowhere to pass,” he says.
“The top section of the trail is really exciting to work with; it has the gradient we need, it’s got everything — we’re going to be able to do a lot with it,” Marriner continues.
To alleviate some of these traffic jams, Marriner is planning to implement some of these multi-line strategies, to create some passing lanes, and in the process, create new trail features to add character to Red Carpet.
With the soil being heavy and clay-based when it rains, it takes a lifetime for it to dry out, and when people put tyre tracks into wet clay and ruts develop, it takes a great deal of time on the business end of a shovel to return the trail to its previous state. So a large part of what Marriner and his team are doing is incorporating gravel into the trail surface to help the soil drain, but they will also be improving the rhythm of some of the trail features.
“When you get down to the lower third, you get some beautiful, fast berms. Someone has done a really good job; the only problem is they get a little bit slippery in the middle of winter. We are looking at changing the transitions just a little to get some of the corners to carry the speed a little bit better, that lower section doesn’t have a lot of gradient, so if you lose your speed, you’ve got to pedal like crazy. We’re also going to beef up the log dropoff going into the car park,” he says.
Marriner and his crew are on the tools on the Red Carpet as we speak, working their way up the trail.
The new Barwon Flow Trail
Stage one of the Forrest upgrade will also see three new trails built in the Forrest end of the network south of town, dubbed the Barwon Flow Trails.
“The centre of that system will be around Trail One (Forrest Loop), there will be up the trail above it, and they will exit down near the creek,” says Maxwell. “Essentially, it’s one up trail and two down trails that will all have a central hub, so you can ride loops through the top section, or you can ride loops in the bottom section, or you can come down and alternate your loops as you come down through them,” says Maxwell.
Often when we talk about trail developments, we focus on the upper-end offering — the tight and narrow, rocky, rooty trails, wide and fast with big jumps — however, we are beginning to see a few trail networks making it a priority to cater to adaptive riders.
“In some sections, where there is new trail that’s going to go in, from the get-go, we talked about making it friendly for adaptive riders, and it will be a place for them to come out and ride. So the theory is if we can get the width into it and some of the features that will suit those types of bikes, it will cater to more people and make it a more friendly place for everyone,” says Maxwell.
“If we can retrospectively fit out some of the trails for adaptive rides as well, we will be trying to do that, and we’ve talked about it with the Barwon Flow trail,”
Once that work is complete, Maxwell says the second stage will see more trails added to both networks near town.
“When it hits the Yaugher end, there are going to be some reasonably big changes. On the map that we have now, Trail Seven is the feeder to get to half the trails out there. Eventually, what will happen is a lot of those will become closed loops, and some sections of Seven will disappear,” says Maxwell. “You’ll be able to ride Grass Trees as a separate trail, and ride out, and (ride) Marriner’s (as a loop) and come back through a separate trail.”
“It will be a complete overhaul. The best parts of Grass Trees, and Marriner’s, and Red Carpet will always be there. It will just be a different approach to them,” he says.
When can you ride new trails in Forrest?
Forrest is one of the country’s oldest mountain bike destinations, and it’s finally getting the tender love and care it rightly deserves — we are bloody excited to get out and ride the finished product. The work for the first stage of the Forrest revitalisation project, which includes the Barwon Flow Trail, will continue into 2022. The second stage, which sees nearly 40km of fresh singletrack, is still in the design and planning stage.
For the most up to date information on what’s happening in Forrest, head over to the Colac Otway Council website.
Photos: Forest Fire Management Victoria, Living Trails, Peter Klein/@vertigo_visuals and Rapid Ascent