Say G’day G’day to Kempsey | Kalateenee Forest enduro trails get an upgrade

About 20km from Crescent Head on the NSW Mid-North Coast, Kempsey is probably best known for being the hometown of the King of Australian Country Music, Slim Dusty. However, Macleay Valley Mountain Bike Club is aiming to put the small town on the map for its trails in Kalateenee State Forest.

As we speak, Hunter Valley based East Coast Mountain Trails are upgrading the enduro trails in the network and the trailhead and facilities thanks to a unique grant arrangement.

As it stands, Kempsey is definitely best known for the Slim Dusty Centre, but the Macleay Valley Mountain Bikers are hoping to change that.

The trails in Kalateenee State Forest have been around for decades. Like so many other trail networks around the country, the network started as informal trails built by a motivated group of locals who wanted somewhere to ride their mountain bikes.

For years they stayed largely under the radar, however in the late 2010s, the Macleay Valley Mountain Bikers Club organised and worked with Forestry and the Council to have them formalised so they could host events, and began to look at using the trails to attract tourism.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for our club not only with this grant but running in conjunction with two other projects at the same time, and they’ll all be completed within a short period of each other. It will see our facilities become more accessible for everyone to use. It will attract more people from the area to take up our sport, but also increase the number of visitors we have,” says Macleay Valley Mountain Bikers Club President Kylie Stewart.

Normally, when we are building singletrack, we have the 1.7-tonne excavator out there. But I’ve got a 4-tonne up there as well, so it’s good for building big features.

The upgrades are focused on the enduro trails, and the folks from East Coast Mountain Trails have big plans.

Grants won with The Ringer From The Top End

As it stands, the trail network in the Kalateene Forest has about 30 km of singletrack, with flowing XC trails and a pocket of enduro trails. In 2021, the club won $30,000 in funding from the Council thanks to a Bushfire Recovery Grant and allowed the construction of the Firefly flow trail — which by all accounts is a hoot. This buoyed the relationship between the club and the Kempsey Shire Council.

“We’d won a bunch of little grants for the club for the Flow Trail and things like signage, and through working with the council, we developed a really good relationship,” explains Stewart.

So when the opportunity for more grant funding became available via the NSW State Government and the Department of Planning and Environment Place to Play program, Stewart approached the council to see if they’d be willing to support something a little unorthodox.

“We have got the mountain bike trails here to a good level, but the Place to Play funding presented a fantastic opportunity to put a significant amount, over $300,000 AUD for the trails and another $150,000 AUD for the car park (and trailhead facilities), into their hands. It was too good an opportunity to miss,” says Craig Milburn, General Manager at the Kempsey Shire Council.

Kempsey is a jump, skip and a hop from Crescent Head, meaning you can grab your bike and board shorts. There is a rumour that the Council may be looking at ways to connect the two, possibly with an adventure trail.

The trouble was the Place to Play funding was only open to councils, so the Macleay Valley Mountain Bikers couldn’t apply for it themselves. To complicate things further, the trails themselves are actually located on land managed by the NSW Forestry Corp, not the Council. So, in essence, the Council would be funding a project to build infrastructure on forestry land, on behalf of a third party.

“We were very happy to put the application in on their behalf. The Mountain Bike Club actually identified the funding and wrote the grant application but under the name of the Council. So we (the Council) oversee and are ultimately responsible for the grant, but we have a very good relationship with the mountain bike club and have put in place procedures in accounting for the grant and the finances and things like that. But also to ensure the project is meeting their standards, and meeting our standards — so we all have that accountability,” says Milburn.

According to Stewart and Milburn, this unique allocation of grant funding from the State Government was a first in NSW. Stewart also tells Flow that Forestry has been on board from the beginning and provided a tremendous amount of support for the Club and the network.

According to the Council and the Club, this is the first time a grant earmarked for councils is being allocated to a mountain bike club to spend in a state forest.

Looking forward looking back, what’s happening on the Kalateenee tracks

There are actually two projects going on at the moment. East Coast Mountain Trails is nearly finished with the first trail, Ugly Duckling, in the upgrade of the enduro trails. At the same time, a new trailhead and hub facilities are going in on the southern side of the network — as the current trailhead and parking area is at the Kempsey Golf Course outside of the land allocated for the trails.

According to Mat Rowland from East Coast Mountain Trails, the soil is a bit like Awaba, and the trails traverse areas that were logged by his estimation in the last 10-15 years.

“There is a good mixture of clay and sandy hardpack. It’s fairly rocky up at the top, but as you get further down the hill, there are no rocks to be seen. Being state forest, I don’t know how often it was logged, but there are lots of stumps and old dead trees, and things from old logging camps — there’s also been a lot of fires in this area over the years as well,” he says.

With that, he tells us the terrain isn’t overly steep or technical. But with the land not being pristine, they have a bit more creative licence to work the earth and create exciting features to keep the speed up and get people excited.

Rowland tells us the upgrade to Yetti will look a bit like Big Line at Boomerang Farm.

“Normally, when we are building singletrack, we have the 1.7-tonne excavator out there. But I’ve got a 4-tonne up there as well, so it’s good for building big features. Probably 95% of the track will be done with the smaller excavator, and then for the bigger features, we bring in the big one and move a lot of dirt to spice things up,” he says.

Rowland tells Flow he and his crew are the most excited for the upgrade to a trail called Yetti, which will look a bit like Big Line at Boomerang Farm.

“There are going to be six jumps, 30-40ft long in a row. Just the big digger stacking dirt up for days, and there will be a return trail so that people can session stuff as well,” he says.

Kalateenee Forest has been for a few races from Rocky Trail Entertainment and White Lightning Events, and the club is hoping these upgrades will allow them to host more.

No longer the Kalateenee Pub With No Beer

Beyond just the rebuild to the pocket of enduro trails in the network, Rowland and his team are tidying and formalising the starts of specific trails and making the layout more intuitive. The goal here is to make finding your way around simpler and to smooth out event logistics for the club.

“The Club has just purchased some timing devices, and our plan is to use the new facilities and upgrades to the trails, so that we can start to see, maybe one day, getting state, if not world-class athletes to come to our area and race our trails,” says Stewart.

It won’t be long until East Coast Mountain Trails has finished their work on the trails in Kempsey. There aren’t a tonne of places to ride in this area of the Mid-North Coast, so the upgrades are a key bit of infrastructure for the area.

Beyond bringing folks in from afar, these facilities will also be a boon for the local community and keep kids out of trouble.

“It’s good news for the town as well, and it’s a great way to get the youth engaged, whether that’s trying to get people out for maintenance days and getting more people involved with the club,” says Rowland.

It’s still early days on the work being done near Kempsey, East Coast Mountain Trails is aiming to have things finalised in September.

Things are lookin’ up for the Kalateenee Mountain Bike Trails.

Photos: Maclaey Valley Mountain Bikers, Rocky Trail/Faber Film, Kempsey Shire Council, Sunday Collective/Kempsey Shire Council Destination NSW and Flow MTB.

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