Glenworth Valley Bike Park was supposed to be the end-all-be-all of bike parks in NSW. Set to be constructed at the Glenworth Valley Adventure Park by Synergy Trails, the proposed network was looking at 120km of singletrack, ranging from DH runs and a Crankworx style jump line, to beginner-friendly trails and everything in between, all serviced by a chairlift.
Shortly after the park was announced, the marketing kicked into overdrive and the team behind Synergy Trails started a crowdfunding campaign offering swag packs, lift tickets, and even a handful of 15-year park passes if you were willing to invest enough. Today, there is just 1km of trail at the Glenworth Valley Adventure Park, the website is a parked URL, and there hasn’t been an update on social media in over a year.
There has been no shortage of speculation about Glenworth Valley. Is it still happening? Was it a scam? Did the park fall victim to its own hype?
Right from the get-go the hype machine was running hot, here’s a video we made at the 2018 Glenworth Vally launch event
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The origin of the Glenworth Valley Bike Park
Back in the early 2010s, when IMBA Australia was still a thing, a landowner contacted the trail advocacy organisation about having mountain bike trails built on his property. IMBA put them in contact with Adrian Main from Synergy Trails, who went up to see the parcel in person.
“The owner showed us around his entire 3,300-acres, and it was beautiful, just fantastic. He was keen to put a bike park on the land,” says Main.
After that hopeful meeting, things went dark for a few years. There were already a few mountain bike trails at Glenworth Valley, and Rocky Trail Entertainment even held a Gravity Enduro there in 2014 — which Flow bike tester Dan McMunn won. In 2016, the conversation started once again, and the parties got down to brass tacks.
“We finally came to an agreement and signed an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) to get things rolling. We announced (the project) really early due to what was happening in politics and local government to get backing, and from there it was difficult to get a final agreement,” says Main.
Since 2016, the Central Coast Council has been in complete disarray. In October 2020, we learned that the council had racked up $565-million in debt, and was so low on funds it wouldn’t be able to pay its 2000 employees. There had been grumblings about these problems in the news for some time, and Main was keen to get the ball rolling, and have the permits and everything else that required government approval taken care of before this scandal came to a head.
Once a certain amount of changes were put forward, there was no way we could deliver what we had promised to the public on that particular parcel of land.
Private land, vital infrastructure and leasing agreements
This project is what’s known as greenfield development, meaning there is no existing infrastructure — roads, electricity, sewer, water etc.
From early on in the project, this greenfields infrastructure caused a problem because it’s anything but cheap to build. Add-in getting the right approvals for the trails, shuttle roads and chairlift, and coming to an agreement on business relationships for the retail and hospitality enterprises, it’s a minefield for hangups and legal disagreements.
“It was a difficult situation for both parties because nothing like this had really been done before on this scale. There were a lot of parameters on their side; how some aspects of the bike park changed how he (the landowner) used his land, and how we fit in,” says Main. “It’s tricky. People go, ‘look, this is a no-brainer, let’s go for it and sign the dotted line.’ But there is so much behind the scenes that need to get ticked off, it can make it difficult to come to an agreement,” he says.
According to Main, they would have an agreement on the lease that laid out details of the business relationships for the park, and then the next meeting, the terms of the leasing agreement would have changed completely, to the point it could have affected the viability of the business.
“Once a certain amount of change was put forward, there was no way we could deliver what we had promised to the public on that particular parcel of land,” he says. “Things were getting changed and chopped and moved, and then communications weren’t coming back from the landowner — we haven’t heard back from the landowner since late last year. It was at a point where we just had to draw a line in the sand and go, ‘Look, we’ll just find somewhere else.'”
Flow spoke on background to an individual who had seen the MOU and subsequent leasing agreements, who confirmed that they were significantly different.
We first spoke to Main in May 2021; in June, he told Flow that he had since heard back from the landowner, though he did not divulge any details about these communications.
A spokesperson for Glentworth Valley Adventure Park declined the opportunity to comment for this story.
The crowdfunding campaign
In 2019, a campaign appeared on the crowdfunding site Go Get Funding, looking to raise money for the project’s first stage. Synergy also sent out an invitation to select individuals and businesses with the opportunity to invest in the project as part of its VIP60 seed funding programme.
Full disclosure: Flow was one of the businesses approached as part of this programme. We politely declined the offer, though we did attend the launch event.
Seeking to raise $750,000, the public-facing campaign said 15km of dedicated gravity trails, complete with a full-time shuttle service, would be open by May 2020. As with most crowdfunding campaigns, rewards ranging from hats, fenders, and mugs, to lift passes and extended park memberships were offered as incentives for donating.
Flow has independently confirmed that the prize packs were sent out to folks who donated.
Watch the Glenworth Valley crowdfunding pitch
The Go Get Funding campaign only raised a little over $20,000, but Main says the goal wasn’t to fund the entire design and construction. Instead, they were looking for some capital to pay for the weekly invoices coming from their lawyers, who were trying to keep up with the changes to the lease.
The land needs to be stipulated (zoned) that you can actually use mountain bikes on it if you’re going to open it to the public. We found it difficult to move forward because the landowner at Glenworth Valley needed to get his side of the planning up to speed.
“If we didn’t get a small amount of help to fund more legals to keep assisting us in meetings and going forward, we were just getting dragged through contract changes and miscommunications. We were coming to the end of what we could actually put in, in part because we believed we would already be building, not negotiating the lease,” Main says.
There are folks listed on the Go Get funding page who donated substantial sums of money, ranging from $500 all the way up to $5000, under the guise that they would receive lift passes to use the park. That’s tough to deliver when there is nothing for riders to uplift.
Main says they haven’t had a lot of contact with the seed funders, because there hasn’t been much to tell them.
Wayne Froggatt from the Bicycle Tech Bar Tuggerah invested in the Glenworth Valley Project as part of the VIP60 programme, and says he’s had about six emails about the project in total.
“I’ve got the VIP card, which is a piece of cardboard with VIP60 written on it, and I’ve got a shirt that turned out to be too small, it’s just all of these things that keep adding up,” he says. “I’m just got jaded with the whole experience of it all.”
“I loved the idea. I was so for it and talking to Adrian and Dan about everything, I even offered to help them set up a shop there,” Froggatt says. “There was so much hype all about it: ‘We’re going to have this great new mountain bike park on the Central Coast which is perfect because it’s what everyone wants.’ And then when it all falls over in a big heap, you’re just like, well, that’s just a massive letdown. ”
Are you allowed to ride here?
If you are going to open mountain bike trails to the public, you need to ensure that you have permission to build them, and that the plan of management allows for that type of recreation on that parcel of land. This land use is at the crux of what’s happening in Royal National Park, The Indigo Epic Trail and seems to have been part of the issue with Glenworth as well.
“The land needs to be stipulated (zoned) so you can actually use mountain bikes on it if you’re going to open it to the public. We found it difficult to move forward because the landowner at Glenworth Valley needed to get his side of the planning up to speed,” says Main.
According to NSW land tenure maps, the Glenworth Valley Adventure Park is zoned as E2 (Environmental Conservation) and RU2 (Rural Landscape). According to these zoning classifications, outdoor recreational facilities and major recreational facilities are permitted, with approval from the council.
Following a rule change in 2006 and the Gosford Local Environmental Plan 2014, with E2 and RU2 zoning, Glenworth Valley should not be allowed to run activities like its horse riding school, but has been grandfathered in due to existing rights usage — the horse school was council approved in 1969.
We have this vision of putting a bike park like this on the Central Coast, we are just trying to find another parcel of land, and it’s a tricky situation.
In May 2020, Glenworth Valley submitted a Gateway Determination Report, seeking to bring its planning up to date and enable permitted uses like ‘eco- tourist facilities, camping grounds, tourist visitor accommodation, and recreation facilities,’ among other things.
“The site currently relies on existing use rights, and the associated complex approval process does not allow the facility to grow and develop as new nature-based outdoor recreation opportunities emerge,” the report says.
In August of 2020, Dan Simpkins, Director of Central Coast and Hunter Region Planning and Assessment, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, gave the Gateway Determination his blessing to go ahead, albeit with a range of conditions.
We could not find any public-facing documents that said whether or not rec facilities like mountain bike trails were currently permitted under the Park’s zoning or had been council approved. It looks like the folks at Glenworth Valley are in the process of updating their planning and sorting out issues with zoning, unfortunately, Synergy has moved on.
Finding a new site
If you’ve followed any of the Glenworth Valley Bike Park social media streams, you will have seen images of singletrack on the Central Coast build site. Main tells Flow that in the six years Synergy was trying to get this project off the ground at Glenworth Valley, he flagged all the trails, and they constructed about a kilometre of singletrack at the site.
Unfortunately, it appears that will be the extent of the trail constructed by Synergy at this location.
Main has not given up hope and is adamant they will be able to deliver a bike park of national significance on the Central Coast; they have just had to pivot and find a new site.
When this project was conceived, it was headed for private land because the local government wasn’t keen on mountain biking. Times are changing, and Main says they have State Government support on both sides of the aisle for this project.
While the Central Coast Council situation has thrown a spanner in the works, it just might turn out to be a blessing in disguise. One of the ways the council is recouping its losses is by selling off land to the State Government.
“We are now in the process of selecting a new site from the potential sites on the Central Coast. The process of selection requires various State Government departments and levels, all meeting and agreeing to a future of MTB on the Coast. This is a slow process, but one we are continuing to get through,” Main told Flow in an email update.
Where we think we are the majority of the time is difficult and I don’t want to pre-empt again, and let the mountain bike community down again.
A victim of its own froth
Main has found himself in this position, in part, because they went hard with the marketing from very early in the project. Part of this was in an attempt to push things through before the proverbial asteroid hit the Central Coast Council, and part of it was to get the attention of higher levels of government to demonstrate what was possible in the region.
While they were unable to deliver the Glenworth Valley Bike Park, Synergy was successful in catching the eye of the State Government. Through this process, they have put together a detailed business plan, and the bones of an infrastructure design that can be tweaked to suit a new site, if they find one.
When asked if he would do things differently given the change, Main told Flow he absolutely would, but also noted that he was only one of several people making decisions about the project.
We started reporting this story back in May, and the reason we are only bringing this update now is because Main has learned from his mistakes.
“Where we think we are, the majority of the time is difficult (to say), I don’t want to pre-empt again, and let the mountain bike community down again,” he says.
With that said, Flow has confirmed that the project still has a pulse. There has been a name change — it would be silly to keep calling it Glenworth Valley Bike Park when it’s located somewhere else — with East Coast Bike Park serving as a placeholder.
“Our job now is to transplant the project onto a more appropriate site in the same vicinity to deliver those benefits as quickly as possible. Once we can share reliable information on location and project milestone dates, we will pass that information on,” Main told Flow.
Main also hinted there were other public and private ride centres in the works, all within driving distance of Sydney and the Central Coast.
A source Flow spoke to who wished not to be named on the record believes the guys at Synergy may have gone into the project based on a bit of bad advice. They noted that these guys can build a mean mountain bike trail, but they hadn’t scaled a multi-million dollar project like this before, and that is an entirely different ball game.
Robbie McNaughton, the owner of Drift Bikes in Newcastle told Flow, “At the end of the day Adrian was trying to do something awesome and the VIP60 platform was a way for us to support that. Ultimately, I feel that there were simply too many stakeholders for the project to eventuate. I think Adrian ended up in a difficult situation whereby funding was required to move to the next stage, but there were many conflicting stakeholder interests.”
The unfortunate part about building mountain bike trails is that it takes a long time before you ever get to the stage where shovels hit the dirt. If we’ve learned anything from Bare Creek Bike Park, Warburton, or Cairns Trails in Paradise, the part that takes the longest is the clerical side of things, paperwork, permits, land agreements and the like.
What’s now known as East Coast Bike Park is no different, except that the public was privy to early stages they usually never see.