Ride Marysville | A grassroots project is aiming to make Marysville a trail town

Flow Mountain Bike acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the Marysville, the Taungurung peoples. We recognise their connection to lands, waters and communities and pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.

Marysville is a cute little town on the edge of the Victorian Alpine and is probably known to most Flow readers as the place you’ll stay the night when riding Cascades at Lake Mountain.

There are cafes, craft shops and plenty of outdoor adventures to be had whether you’re chasing trout on the fly or aiming to hike the Cathedral Ranges, but a local community group is aiming to make it a true mountain biking town.

Ride Marysville is aiming to build out a network in the state forest around the town with as much as 130km of trails. They already have a master plan put together by Dirt Art, a working group has been assembled to begin ticking the bureaucratic boxes and seek funding, and the project had a double take from not just the Council, but peak bodies like Tourism North East (also known as Ride High Country).


Mountain bikers probably think of Cascades when you say Marysville, but the small town is well on its way to having a massive trail network.

This is a grassroots project with lofty goals, but for that matter, so were Narooma and Eden, and the proof is in the pudding there. The big difference here is that the catchment for a Marysville mountain bike destination is over five million people, being in such close proximity to Melbourne.

With some name recognition among Aussie mountain bikers, adding over 100km of singletrack has the potential to make Marysville one of the most impactful riding destinations in the country. Did we mention that this is a community-driven project?

We caught up with some of the team behind Ride Marysville to find out more about this project and how a group of motivated mountain bikers are trying to make their sleepy little village into a trail town.

Lake Mountain is the draw to Marysville for mountain bikers, but if the Ride Marysville plan goes ahead Cascades will feed into over 100km of trails.

It all started with Cascades

First opened in 2019, Cascades was Lake Mountain Alpine Resort’s big push to balance out the seasonality of its tourism. While there has been a very small network of trails at the summit, the 28km descent is the major drawcard, and according to the Resort, they’ve seen folks come back half a dozen times in a single summer to ride the one trail.

As Neil Fookes an active member of the local Lions Club and the Ride Marysville working group points out, Cascades is extraordinarily popular but it’s only one trail. While tourism statistics show that people come to Marysville and Lake Mountain more than once a season to ride it, one really great trail is not enough to attract folks to come up every weekend.

Marysville was just about completely destroyed in the 2009 bushfires and has been on the mend ever since. With a population of 501 according to the 2021 census, it’s not hard to notice the influx of people Cascades has brought into town and the impact it’s had on the economy.

“Marysville has traditionally been a tourist town, and it suffered hugely after the 2009 fires and hasn’t really returned to where it was. It’s a beautiful area up here and certainly underutilized and underappreciated for its beauty,” says Fookes.

So when the Council started holding community planning meetings to identify areas the locals wanted to improve and create more opportunities, cycling was one of nine areas that won out.

There is no shortage of great terrain or elevation around town.

“At that stage, Cascades had been running, and people were seeing the financial benefit, as well as the increase in tourism and just the number of people in town over the weekends,” says Adam Johnston from Ride Marysville.

This recognition from the Council allowed them to secure funding to commission Dirt Art to have a poke around and see what was possible around Marysville.

But the big caveat is, this is not a project being spearheaded by the Council. While the Murrindindi Shire Council is well and truly in support, they wanted the community to lead the initial development and own the project.

“Initially, it was challenging with the Council because I don’t honestly think they thought a group would take on a project of this scale,’ says Johnston.

One of the hardest parts for this project has been figuring out where to start.

“To be honest I don’t think they knew how they could help us. So we have had some conversations about; this is what we’re planning on doing, this is the money we’ve spent, this is what we need to get there. Over time we figured out how the Council could help us by using their expertise, experience and capability to assist to secure funding, and organising community meetings and stakeholder meeting things like that,” he says. 

Eventually they sort of figured it out, ‘let’s help point them in the right direction for funding, or organising community meetings’ and things like that,” he says.

Fortunately while the project was finding it’s feet the Murrindindi Cycle Club stepped up to provide funds needed to keep the wheels turning.

Working group assemble

The working group behind Ride Marysville are all volunteers but they have a surprising level of expertise needed to navigate the masses of red tape that comes along with building trails. From folks who deal with government agencies like DECA in their day jobs to Lake Mountain Resort higher-ups, ex-council employees, and even trail builders.

Beyond the subject matter experts, the working group also sees a few folks like Fookes who are just interested community members who work or own businesses in town and can help spread the message.

Unsurprisingly, Lake Mountain is also stumping for the project as there is a mutual benefit because the trails will feed into one another. Johnston says they are in conversations with the Resort on how they can be involved along with Peppers, one of the big accommodation providers.

The project has already caught the attention of Tourism North East, which has included Ride Marysville in its Destination Management Plan. Regional Development Victoria has been guiding their attention to funding opportunities.

While Ride Marysville needs plenty of outside support the want to ensure all of the benefit goes to the local community.

Michael Wasley another member of the working group points out they don’t want to get ahead of themselves, as the project can’t just become an advertising exercise for Lake Mountain, or Peppers, or another commercial outfit that will financially benefit from a riding destination.

“We’ve been treading carefully because we need to have the approval from the community. We’re aware that when interested parties get their commercial claws in, it needs to be of benefit for the community, whether that’s better long-term employment or what have you,” he says.

The Ride Marysville working group has a bit of a balancing act on its hands. They need visibility and noise about the project to drum up outside support, which can help with funding and navigating the bureaucracy. Still, they want to ensure the benefit goes into the local community, not a corporate office in Sydney.

So they haven’t been out spruiking the project in some of the traditional ways, however that doesn’t mean they can’t take advantage of some of the avenues available to them.


Drumming up support

Wasley works for a local outdoor education outfit that runs school camps. He and the rest of the working group are under no illusion that this outfit would directly benefit from a large-scale trail network for the programs it could offer. This would also mean they would be able to hire a bike mechanic, skills instructor, etc.

“Approaching the (Tourism and Sport) Minister (Steve Dimopoulos) is one thing—which our CEO and someone like the General Manager of Lake Mountain will do as well. But another aspect of that is because we have schools from around the country, getting those principals to write letters to the Minister supporting the project and then saying where this project is up to and when can we bring bikes,” he says.

Lake Mountain, Peppers and others have thrown their weight behind the project.

While all of this helps with the business case for the project when applying for grants and funding, ultimately, projects like this need sign-off from large entities within the state government. While the Ride Marysville project exists exclusively within state forests — which in theory should create fewer hurdles than some others from the outset — it sure doesn’t hurt to have the Minister who may sit above that entity behind the project.

The Ride Marysville folks have also sent up the flag and garnered advice from Grant Kearney from the Blue Derby Foundation, who provided the Working Group with advice on its business plan and the day-to-day of running a bike park.

It also comes at a time when Native Forest logging is no more, and the Active Victoria State Recreation Plan has highlighted increasing equitable participation in sport and active recreation and delivering quality infrastructure that is accessible, respectful and inclusive.

“Given that it’s in a state forest area, we don’t expect there will be a rare species that wouldn’t allow the project to go ahead, but given there is 130km in the concept design, there is enough of a buffer where the rest of the network could go ahead while we reshape, and redesign it to go around the sensitive areas,” says Wasley.

Putting on his Outdoor ED hat, Wasley also does not see coming across such a species as a barrier, as finding something provides educational opportunities to highlight that it’s part of a special ecosystem and give folks that firsthand experience with nature that makes them care about it.

“Bike trails, as we know, create less erosion than potentially bush walking trails can and definitely horse riding and trail bikes. We’ve got a best case to actually create awareness of these rare species and the value of these ecosystems,” he says.

The working group has identified a number of ways the trail network will benefit the community outside of just bringing more mountain bikers to town.

Along with that transition away from native forest logging, there is also chatter that a bio-char processing plant will be established in a former timber town in the region, like Buxton, Marysville, or Narbethong. Surprisingly, tangential initiatives like this also help the business case for a trail network in the area.

“There is still a lot of timber that falls down in the forest after these huge windstorms, and horticulture groups, agriculture, and even agroforestry are interested in extracting these fallen trees. For the bike trails, that’s clearing these fallen trees off the trails.

There is a business case with agriculture to turn those timbers into charcoal and sell that on — that’s already a commercially up-and-running system,” says Wasley. “That in itself strengthens the business case for the trail network as there is now a commercial outlet for something that may have otherwise been seen as a waste material.”

There is a tonne of deadfall that happens in the forests around Marysville, and the trails could help to support an industry built on fallen timber. 

Playing the waiting game

Being that this is a massive project being put together by volunteers and it still needs to tick the same boxes as projects being run by Council or other organisations, it can make a long process seem exponentially longer. One of the significant challenges is playing the waiting game while also keeping people hyped on the project.

“Trying to keep people enthused about it and for them to realise it is a long process. There are lots of small steps, and we can’t give everyone an action every time,” says Johnston. “We’re waiting for grants and funding that we don’t have avenues to at the moment.”

At the time of writing, the Murrindindi Shire is supporting an application for funding through the Enabling Tourism Fund to assist in the development of a business plan and a feasibility study. With these documents in hand, Ride Marysville will then unlock the gates to the real grant funding needed to get the wheels turning — so, as Johnston put it, they need money to get money.

There is still lots of work for the project team to undertake, but they are well on their way. Ride Marysville has a master plan and concept design, and to get to the place where DEECA would sign off on the network, Johnston says they would need to go out and ground-truth the trails.

But before they do that, the team is looking around and saying well, what else can we potentially use?

What has been laid out so far is just lines on a map, and to take it to the next stage all of those lines will need to be ground truthed.

“Once you have the GPS layout of the track and where they’re going to go, that’s set,” Johnston says. “Once it’s set, you have to go through the whole process again if you want to add something else five years down the line. So, if we do the process once and do all the surveys, we can take that to DEECA and present it. So we’re going to go really big — if we don’t build it all (in one hit), at least we have permission to go back in and do it later.”

Covering elevations of 400m up to 1300m of state forest, there are lots of different vegetation types and solid types, but crucially, it has all been logged before so the bar for getting mountain bike trails over the line isn’t too high in that regard. Once the trail alignments have been ground-truthed they will be working with the Taungurung Land & Water Council to complete the Cultural Heritage Management Plan, to identify and manage impacts to the biocultural environment.

So overall, the values that will need to be managed are comparatively lower when you look at riding destinations around the country.

A project of this size is no doubt a big swing for a group of motivated volunteers to undertake, but there is a growing list of examples as to exactly what a group of motivated folks can achieve with a bit of persistence and some good ol’ fashioned elbow grease. It’s still going to be a while before there is over 100km of singletrack in the forests around Marysville, but we’ll be keeping tabs on this project to see how it’s progressing.

For more info please head over to the Ride Marysville website.

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