Is Woolgoolga the next big thing for mountain bikers in New South Wales?

Nestled on the Coffs Coast, is the idyllic little town of Woolgoolga. With two spectacular beaches that attract seasonal tourism, a newly sanctioned trail network has put the coastal town on the map of mountain bikers from all over northern NSW.

“From a topographic standpoint, the Coffs Coast — which we (Woolgoolga) are a part of — is the only part of New South Wales where The Great Dividing Range hits the coast. So the potential here is massive,” says Scott Bocking, owner of the Woodseys Wheels bike shop.

Wedding Bells State Forest
The trails in Wedding Bell State Forest are all gravity-fueled, with the fire road currently serving as the up trail.

It’s not a massive mountain bike destination (yet), but the 11km gravity network in Wedding Bells State Forest has generated a groundswell of support from the town folk, and cultivated a thriving riding community that should be the envy of every riding destination.

“We had a small grant from MTBA when it rolled over into AusCycling, and Coffs Coast Council has put up some money for signage, but everything else has come purely from local businesses, community support, and resort accommodation providers, and with that, we’ve been able to build a high-quality bike park on the Coast,” says Bocking.


Trails for the community, by the community

So many of the mountain bike projects we write about here on Flow are spearheaded by the council, but in Woolgoolga, the local mountain bike club harnessed the power of the community to make its trails a reality. With this, the club had a responsibility not only to its members, but also to ensure the trails didn’t come at the cost of other stakeholders.

“There was a lot of what you could call unsanctioned trail building going on in the area. The club wasn’t involved in that, but through people wanting to ride mountain bikes, some people just went out there and built trails,” says Greg Stocks, the Woolgoolga MTB Club president.

Wedding Bells State Forest
The Woolgoolga Mountain Bike Club engaged with as many stakeholders as they could to ensure that everyone had the same expectations and the trails were up to scratch.

“When we first sat down with Forestry (Corp NSW), we also sat down with senior members of the Coffs Harbour and District Local Aboriginal Land Council to work out, ‘ok, is this parcel of land even a possibility before we go any further.’ It was an opportunity for us to say, ‘look, this is happening; these trails are developing.'” Bocking, who is also VP of the Woolgoolga MTB Club, continues.

“The club is in a position where we can try and foster that growth in the right direction, or shut it down if it’s somewhere it shouldn’t be; otherwise, it just ends up a spider web of poorly built trails with no connectivity, and isn’t serving anyone in the community,” he says.

Having input from such a variety of trail builders was great because there is everything from beginner to advanced, and each has a different style, which makes it a really unique destination. I’d rate it as one of the best destinations you’ll find in New South Wales for sure.

The Traditional Owners of the Coffs Region are the Gumbaynggirr people, and they have a lot of history in and around Wedding Bells State Forest. So, in addition to walking every kilometre of trail with an ecologist, they also went out with a Gumbaynggirr Elder.

Through this consultation, they did discover a few artefacts along the way, and rerouted some of the trails to ensure they were left undisturbed. Bocking tells us that with the amount of mountain bike traffic in the forest, the powers at be were happy to work with the club to establish a network and define areas where trails could go, and where they shouldn’t.

He also tells Flow the door has been left open to expand the network when the time comes.

Wedding Bells State Forest
The trails in Wedding Bells State Forest are anything but amateur, but they have been built entirely by the local community.

The club also had Josh Smith from Angry Goat Trails come out to survey the network.

“It seems that there was a mutual understanding of all the trail builders up there that a certain standard needed to be met — everything was environmentally friendly and pretty well built,” says Smith.

“Having input from such a variety of trail builders was great because there is everything from beginner to advanced, and each has a different style, which makes it a really unique destination,” he says. “I’d rate it as one of the best destinations you’ll find in New South Wales for sure.”

Within a week, one of the local businesses here that supports the club was able to get 14 other businesses on board to cover 14 days of machine hire, to rebuild one of our trails

Wedding Bells State Forest
Bocking tells us the kids have been going bonkers for the trails up in Wedding Bells State Forest.

The Woolgoolga Dirt Coop

It took about 18-months of building relationships with Foresty and the local Aboriginal Land Council before the club was issued a land-use permit. This is a lot of work and time spent in meetings with different stakeholder groups to ensure everyone has the same expectations. Not to mention, paying the ecologists and trail builders for their time, formalising a trail network is a costly process.

Grant funding only goes so far and can take a long time to come through. Seeing the demand for legal infrastructure, the Woolgoolga Mountain Bike Club and the local business community stepped up to fill the gap and keep the momentum rolling.

Wedding Bells State Forest Dirt Coop
Members of the Dirt Coop that have taken on some of the cost of the trails are shown on the signage for each of the trails.

Several local businesses have formed what they call a Dirt Coop, and have pooled resources to improve this asset for the community.

“Within a week, one of the local businesses here that supports the club was able to get 14 other businesses on board to cover 14 days of machine hire, to rebuild one of our trails,” said Stocks.

“We have (and pay for) the permit for Wedding Bells State Forest and the Mount Coramba Downhill, and the ongoing costs of looking after the trails and the permits are completely funded by the community and donations,” he continues.

Community support for mountain bike trails is a cornerstone of any riding area, but the moment you ask people to donate their time or open their wallets is often where the support ends. For Woolgoolga, the community is doing everything it can to foster mountain biking, and the return on their investment is clear.

Wedding Bells State Forest
The club organised for Ryan Gilchrist to come out for a ride for and day. It rained but that didn’t deter an army of groms from turning out.

Whether it be the ladies rides that are getting bigger each week, having 68 groms show up on a rainy day to ride with Ryan Gilchrist, or having to cap the Wednesday afternoon riding program at the high school at 40 kids; the grassroots of mountain biking in this town of just over 5,000 has well and truly taken hold.

“When we were at our accommodation, every 10-15min there would be a kid riding around on a mountain bike. The population of mountain bikers up there is very large, and this was before everything was approved,” says Smith.

We want quality trails; we want every metre of that to be a legit offering, not just a statistic on a council web page

The trails at Wedding Bells have also laid the foundation for a youth engagement program for the local indigenous community, which the club calls Deadly Treadlys.

“The idea is to get kids who might not have the access to get on a mountain bike, and take them out for a few hours, like a school sports program. We want to get them on country with a mountain bike being the vehicle, and we’re trying to engage the community as much as we can,” Bocking tells Flow.

Wedding Bells State Forest
For a town of 5,000 that has only just had its trail network formalised, the mountain bike community is on fire.

“It’s a small enough town that when you make a ripple, everybody notices. So it’s sort of been one of these classic examples of where you start from the very beginning with a mountain bike culture and build it in a small community, it has such a positive outcome for kids, families, and engagement,” he continues.

Quality not quantity, with more on the way

With just 11km of trail, Wedding Bells State Forest isn’t a sprawling network that will likely attract riders from across the country in its current state. But, between the topography, the beach, and the proximity to an airport, it has quite a few of the ingredients to become something more significant.

Stocks and Bocking both told Flow they are wholly unconcerned with the kilometre count, and the sole focus for Wedding Bells is to make it as rad as possible.

Wedding Bells State Forest
11km is not a boatload of trail, but based on what we have seen from Wedding Bells State Forest, there is plenty to keep riders entertained.

“Our philosophy isn’t, ‘you’ve got 68km of singletrack, well we’ve got 72km,’ that’s not really relevant. We want quality trails; we want every metre of that to be a legit offering, not just a statistic on a council web page,” says Bocking.

Stocks tells Flow in the immediate future, they are hoping to add a new climbing trail, a flow jump trail and a pavilion at the top hub to give folks somewhere to get out of the sun and hang out.

Having officially opened in May 2021, Bocking tells Flow they see 400-500 riders in Wedding Bells State Forest every weekend, with folks coming from as far away as Ballina, Lismore, and Armidale — bypassing a few notable existing trail networks en route. So we think you’ll be hearing more about the trails in Woolgoolga.

For the latest on what is happening in Woolgoolga and Wedding Bells State Forest, head over to the Woolgoolga MTB club’s Facebook. 

Wedding Bells State Forest
With everything from gap jumps like this one to smaller trail features, there is something for riders of all levels.
Wedding Bells State Forest
The trails at Wedding Bell State Forest are mostly gravity focused. Combined with the Coramba DH up the road, there is quite a bit here for gravity riders.

Photos: And The Trees photography/@andthetreesphotography, Scott Bocking

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