For the population of mountain bikers who live and ride in Sydney, there is a woefully inadequate amount of legal places to ride, which has led to folks taking matters into their own hands, creating facilities that land managers can’t or won’t. But, it’s not just shadowy individuals cutting trails under the dark of night; community members and families are out there building and maintaining their local trails. What’s worse is when legal infrastructure is built, but totally misses the mark and falls into disrepair.
The Golden Jubilee Bike Park or ‘Jubes’ in North Wahroonga on Sydney’s Upper North Shore is a case study in all of these factors, but most importantly what can be achieved when everyone puts down their pitchforks and listens to one another.
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Jubes: In the beginning
Golden Jubilee Bike Park was originally built in 2011 and rebuilt again in 2013. It’s situated on an old tip, similar to Bare Creek Bike Park, it was the right location, but came at the wrong time.
“When it was originally built 11 years ago, there were grand plans that never eventuated because there was a lot of community opposition,” says Alison Underwood, who lives up the road from Golden Jubilee, and spearheaded the rebuild project. “They ended up downscaling the park so much the people invested in making it work, no longer wanted to be a part of it, so it was never really used or maintained. It got to the point where it was almost unusable because everything was so degraded.”
This was before my time, but they (the council) went in with really good intentions about collaborating with the community to build something they actually wanted, but it was toned down to a level that wasn’t something people wanted to ride.
Jacob Sife, Manager of Environment and Sustainability at the Ku-ring-gai Council, says Jubes never quite hit the spot when it was first developed.
“This was before my time, but they (the council) went in with really good intentions about collaborating with the community to build something they actually wanted, but it was toned down to a level that wasn’t something people wanted to ride,” says Sife.
This led to a facility that didn’t meet the needs of any stakeholder group, and so the volunteers engaged to run build days and maintenance lost interest and moved on.
Council closing trails, but not cutting off communication
Not to beat a dead horse, but over the last 18-months, mountain biking has exploded, and by proxy, so has unsanctioned trail building. So last March, when lockdown restrictions were lifted for the Ku-ring-gai LGA, the council sent out a notice that 34 unauthorised trails would be remediated.
“One of them was a trail that our kids and the local community had been building. A lot of time and energy had been invested, and of course, everyone was very upset,” says Underwood.
Unbeknownst to the community, this trail made its way through an area that was sensitive to both biodiversity and Aboriginal heritage. Because of these factors, the council was obligated to close the trail, but they didn’t close the door on the mountain biking community.
“We got in touch with the people who had been building in that area, and there was so much energy, enthusiasm and desire. They were making the point that they wanted the opportunity to enjoy the bush in their own way. They also made it clear that they didn’t want to harm the bush — they didn’t want to have these impacts on biodiversity, and they weren’t aware of the Aboriginal heritage,” says Sife.
Not only did we need local mountain bike trails to ride, but we also needed to engage the hundreds of kids that are out there building, in the design, the build, and the management.
“I’ve been talking to Alison from day one, and it didn’t take long to work out that we actually have a lot in common in what we’re trying to achieve. Very quickly, we stopped working against each other,” Sife says.
Rather than enter into the expensive back and forth, where the council destroyed a community-built trail, and no sooner than the machines have left, it gets rebuilt. Instead, the two opposing forces joined together to produce something that benefits all parties involved.
For the community by the kids
The Ku-ring-gai council had been through a similar process with the Warrimoo Downhill — better known as Crackers — starting in the early to mid-2010s. The gravity trail was slated for closure as it ran through an environmentally sensitive area. The community pushed back, and the council listened.
It wasn’t a totally smooth process, but the trail was rerouted, and in 2019, Dirt Art was brought in to rebuild Crackers. The result is a professionally built, double black DH trail, constructed to a high ecological standard, in the heart of the Sydney suburbs.
The infrastructure that Sife and Underwood were looking to replace was a set of dirt jumps, and spatially, Golden Jubilee was not all that far away from the remediated trail.
Check out the Warrimoo DH, another community-driven project
“Not only did we need local mountain bike trails to ride, but we also needed to engage the hundreds of kids that are out there building, in the design, the build, and the management. They enjoy the build, and riding what they have built as much, or more than just riding a trail, and they want to be involved in the process,” says Underwood.
The last thing anyone wanted for this project was for the new Golden Jubilee to become…well…Golden Jubilee, so the council got in touch with Trail Care, and tried something new.
“We went to a council meeting, and it was kind of a brainstorm session for the kids. We presented info about Bare Creek Bike Park, to help give the kids some ideas as to how the trails could work on the site. Then we pulled out maps, and they started drawing,” says James Hall, from Trail Care.
The way that they’ve engaged the community is really something that needs to be applauded. Even though it’s still not for everyone, we’ve ticked a lot of boxes as to what those kids were already building in the bush.
“Some of the kids were really realistic with what they were wanting, and some were quite far fetched,” says Hall. “But it gave us a better understanding of what the general user group wanted.”
While there were ideas for road gaps, chairlifts and booster arrows straight out of Mario Kart, the biggest takeaway was that the kids wanted something to replace what they were losing.
Underwood tells Flow that after the meeting, the kids were stoked that the powers at be were actually listening to them, and taking their ideas on board.
These designs were amalgamated into something that could be constructed on-site. Hall says barring a few minor adjustments to keep things safe, what you see at Jubes was designed by the kids in the community.
Staving off disrepair
From the beginning, this project has been community-driven. From Underwood chasing down everyone at the Ku-ring-gai council, to the design and build, the community is also tasked with maintenance and closing certain features when they are unsafe or too wet. Of course, this model caused Jubes to fall into disrepair the first time around, but the redux is different.
“We’ve got a trail crew of about 30-people, mostly kids. Some of them are always up there, and we know if the wind is at a certain speed, (and is coming from) a certain direction, that means certain lines will be closed. We have a constant chat going, where the kids will let us know how things look,” says Underwood.
“There is a lot of ad hoc maintenance that the kids do; they might be up there in the afternoon and reshape a lip, or fix anything that might need some work,” continues Damian Underwood. “The kids have the code to the toolbox, so they will go in with rakes and shovels, they will move the mulch back into position (on the mulch jump) every few hours when they are riding it. Several of them will pick up the hose if it’s a bit dry. They’re really invested.”
By bringing the community in from the start, especially the kids, they have been empowered to take ownership of Jubes, and do their best to keep it running smoothly. Sife says the trail maintenance has been structured like Bush Care, and once this group of kids age out, the hope is that it will be passed down to the younger crowd and continue to evolve in that manner.
Just the beginning of the new Jubes
This is only the first stage of what is planned for Golden Jubilee, and the park will continue to expand. But Ku-ring-gai Council is on the front foot and trying to adopt this community model elsewhere in the LGA.
“The council has been very proactive, we’ve heard in the last couple of days they have put up some signs at a few different trails around Ku-ring-gai — which normally would have been destroyed — saying ‘if you want to keep this trail, please contact council and let’s rebuild it together,'” says Underwood.
Through Covid lockdowns, there have been a lot of new trails and jump lines that have popped up, and subsequently been bulldozed by land managers — A Current Affair even picked up the story of a few groms building trails in western Sydney. The approach Ku-ring-gai is taking is progressive, and it will likely amount to a better outcome for all involved.
“We just can’t provide everything for everyone,” says Sife. “But if we can create these partnerships so people understand the limitations and we can educate them about what we’re trying to protect, we can find ways to provide high-quality experiences for people to enjoy. It’s a win-win.”
Hall continues, “I’d like to see more councils being this proactive. The way that they’ve engaged the community is really something that needs to be applauded. Even though it’s still not for everyone, we’ve ticked a lot of boxes as to what those kids were already building in the bush. It gives them exactly what they want and they’re still working with them on some other trails.”
Sife tells Flow that he has heard from other councils and community groups asking for advice about doing something similar in their area.
It’s not a one size fits all solution that will work for every council, but this model hits two birds with one stone. Local riders get a rad place to ride, and are disincentivised from going out into the bush, because bike parks like Golden Jubilee are bigger and better than anything they make with shovels and pickaxes.
Photos: Jubes Trail Crew