With the 2024 AusCycling Mountain Bike National Champs heading to Awaba, NSW in March, the Hunter Mountain Bike Association has also announced that after 12 months of planning and a comprehensive Review of Environmental Factors, plans to expand the park have had the tick of approval. This all comes after a significant landslide cut off access to the top of the trail network.
Home to the infamous Monkey Downhill, the majority of Awaba has an XC focus. However the club has progressively been chipping away with more gravity focus trails, and this latest expansion will further that goal, in addition to improving rider safety and adding some new connector trails allowing for new loops.
How did we get here?
“Our intention was always to expand the gravity trails, but also some connections that offer different loop options for people that want to come out and ride a combination of the gravity and XC trails,” says HMBA President Josh Bridson.
Awaba is situated on land leased from Forestry Corp NSW. With the massive uptick in mountain bikers and, in turn the demand for trails, Forestry had to update and formalise the process for approving trails on land it manages.
“We had to go down this pathway of doing a Review of Environmental Factors. It was a bit more of an involved process than what we have done in the past where we had an informal meeting and agreement process with Forestry Corp representatives,” says Bridson.
This meant the mountain bike club had to engage an ecologist and conduct an Aboriginal Heritage Survey. The terrain around Awaba can get pretty treacherous once you venture away from the existing trail network. The foothills of the Watagans have prominent rocky escarpments and cliff faces, so it was a long, laborious process not only to map out the alignments for the trails but also to get the experts out there to conduct the required survey.
It also wasn’t cheap, Bridson tells Flow it was roughly $18,000 AUD just to do the studies.
However the club believes this effort was worth it not just for this expansion, but also for the next round of upgrades whenever that may be.
“We’ve had the experts out there, and they’ve been through the extent of the park and seen the trees and the flora and fauna. Next time when we want to add more trails, we’ll be familiar with what’s out there, so it should theoretically just be changes to the existing REF, rather than creating a whole new one,” says Bridson.
New trails for Awaba
For this initial stage of the Awaba expansion, the club has designed about 9km of fresh singletrack, with a good portion of that focused on improving network connectivity and functionality.
Bridson tells us they’ve already started work on extending the development/adaptive loop, as it will serve as the start loop for the National’s XC race this coming March.
Also on the agenda is an extension of the existing Wild Polly jump line to add more opportunities to put air under your tyres.
“We have a couple of internal climbing trails we’re putting into to access the gravity trails, to access Faulk Line and Biraban — that’s to keep bicycle traffic off Mount Faulk Road,” he says.
“We want to offer a climb inside the network that is a good, fun sort of climbing trail, but also, from a safety perspective it helps to keep us contained within the park,” says Bridson.
The club is also looking to add mixture of semi-raw, technical descending and more flowy gravity riding.
“We’re hoping to have another gravity trail that comes off the Faulk Line platform — that is a big metal platform area we have at the top of Faulk Line. We wanted to have a big all-mountain trail that divided the negative space between Briaban and the XC loop, but we’ve broken that down into two sections — that will allow us to link in off the cross country trails. Once we have those two loops together, the next bit will be to connect them and have a trail that runs through the middle,” says Bridson.
Bridson went on to explain the club’s vision is to create a setup similar to Midline at Maydena. Where you can ride one trail to Midline and then choose your own adventure the rest of the way down.
Improving accessibility for adaptive cyclists at Awaba
One of the key goals set out by the HMBA is to improve its adaptive-friendly trails, which will involve bringing more of the XC network up to spec.
“Some of the connecting trails we will put into an adaptive standard. That will also mean there is the potential to connect them into the existing cross country trails, and then build more loops,” says Bridson
According to Bridson, the club views the adaptive trails not just as adaptive-friendly but also beginner-friendly, offering newcomers a gentle introduction into mountain biking.
They’ve also laid out some of the less sexy ancillary infrastructure that makes the park more accessible and more enjoyable for everyone — ranging from more picnic tables to upgrading the parking lot and trailhead facilities.
“It’s all about providing a destination for people visiting the Lake Macquarie LGA and recognising the importance of attracting beginners and families to the park. So with things like adaptive or beginner-friendly trails, we want to install a pump track because we know that some families will like pump tracks, they’ll come out in groups and spend time there. That will introduce them to mountain biking and the joy of outdoor exercise. And that will lead to our sport continuing to thrive and progress,” he says.
By the club for, the club
It’s clear that armed with this REF and an intimate understanding of not just the park and its cultural and environmental values, but also the new approvals process, the HMBA has big plans for Awaba. And it’s all been designed internally by the Club’s Trail Coordinators.
“We’ve been at the site since 2006, and we have an intimate understanding of the terrain, what can be built and how to build it. Over the years, we’ve built a high level of trust with Forestry that we will respect the environment and build things properly to look after the watercourse and avoid damaging flora,” he says.
Bridson tells Flow the Club will likely be doing a good bit of the building themselves but will get a contractor in where possible if they can access grant funding — which will also affect the speed at which they’re built.
Of course, like every other club, the HMBA is composed of volunteers and was started to run races. However, as time has passed, it has morphed into a bike park management operation — still run by volunteers trying to provide a facility for the general public, and organise races. With that, there is a frustration with having to chase grant funding with the local and state government’s newfound hunger to utilise mountain biking to achieve tourism outcomes.
“There is an appetite from the government to have those trails put in and the network further developed, but then we have to apply for grant funding to be able to construct those trails. So it’s a time and cost barrier to the club because we have to potentially invest money into trying to secure those grants. If the government wants the trails there and the facilities to attract people to the regional area, and they’ve got the money to spend on trails, why not cut out the middle man?” he says.
Bridson tells Flow that he’s excited about the future of the trail network and, in the short term, to see Nationals come to Awaba.
“It gives us the chance to show off our park to the rest of Australia, the quality of the trails and the effort we are putting in as a club. It’s also given us the opportunity to continue to expand the park network. So what we hope to be able to do is put in some new trails for this year’s event and then if we are to host the Nationals again in the future, having them at our park will give us the credibility to be able to ask for funding potentially and develop and expand on the trails,” he says.
He tells us he’s particularly excited about the resurrection of the Monkey Downhill and bringing it back to its former glory, after the landslide closed it off for such a long period.
We’ll keep an eye on the progress of the Awaba expansion, but for more, head over to the Hunter Mountain Bike Association website.