A project to transform Tenterfield into a 'trail town' of national if not international significance is moving ahead with a detailed business case now in place and community workshops scheduled for next Monday, November 16. It's a first step towards establishing the shire as an adventure tourism hub.
In this case it's mountain trail bike (MTB) trails rather than rail trails, with initially 150 kilometres of purpose-built trails all linked back to the CBD as a hub (much like Thredbo Village is the hub for ski runs) offering 'apres-activities'. It would be the longest purpose-built MTB trail network in Australia and open year-round.
Later phases see the project extend to outlying villages, and the trails will cater for riders of all abilities including disabled riders and trails for walkers.
Angry Bull Trails director Vince Sherry, among a small team of volunteers driving the initiative at this early stage, is keen to see business owners, landholders, mountain bike enthusiasts, high school students and particularly Tenterfield Shire councillors at the workshops.
There's an early one at 6.30am and an evening 5.30pm session, both at the Tenterfield School of Arts and expected to run around 90 minutes. Register here. (As per COVID requirements, attendees will scan a QR code on entry and seating will be organised to maintain social distance.)
Workshop participants' support for the project will be surveyed to accompany future funding applications.
So far Tenterfield Shire Council has chipped in $25,000 for the business case, prepared by Regional Development Australia Northern Inland (RDANI). Mr Sherry said council has a further $30,000 put aside and he is hoping a good response to the workshops will release this money to engage a company like World Trails to complete the concept work.
He hopes to have 'shovels in the ground' by next June, and tyres on the track within 12 months.
RDANI is a keen supporter, committing to seek grant funding under its name. An application is being prepared for the Local Economic Recovery Fund, which provides grants from $400,000 up to $20 million.
The trails project has a capital cost of $7.5 million, to cover trail construction, signage and maps, marketing, car parking, toilets, barbecue areas and drinkers, bike racks and repairs stations and wash stands. Annual operating costs are projected to be $1542 per kilometre of track.
The business case states that over a 10 year period, even if council covers the annual track maintenance costs of $231,000 (which is unlikely, as the plan is to cover these costs from other fundraising activities), the project would still generate a return on investment of 224 per cent.
The first four trails will be routed primarily through public land, with council, Crown Lands, Local Land Services (via its Travelling Stock Reserves), Forestry Corp NSW and National Parks and Wildlife Service all on board.
Mr Sherry has already received interest from private landholders in the Dairy Mountain area to be involved. He said part of the planning process will be to secure tenure for the proposed trails for the next 5-10 years.
The mountainous topography of the Tenterfield area makes it an MTB rider's dream.
"Mt MacKenzie is a gold cup for a gravity run," Mr Sherry said.
That trail would also require a new shuttle-bus business.
"Such experiences are few and far between. We have a mountain close to 1300 metres. We can do something good there."
A 'pump track' near the hub would serve as a training ground and also as a starting point for a CBD self-guided tours.
"At the workshops we can put the case before the community, bring people in and explain it, and put faces to the names of the people involved," Mr Sherry said.
The not-for-profit Angry Bull Trails Ltd's board of directors includes Mr Sherry and RDANI representatives, among others. A key participant is BackTrack, the Armidale-based organisation founded by Bernie Shakeshaft to reconnect young people, particularly indigenous youth, with education and training to become work-ready.
Mr Sherry said BackTrack is looking to establish a hub in Tenterfield to serve the local community, and the trail project will be a key component in training local youth in various roles and then providing employment in the areas of bike repair, trail construction and maintenance, hospitality and more.
He said the project's social objectives are a key emphasis, seeking to provide employment opportunities for young people to address Tenterfield's high incidence of disengaged youth (neither in education or employment) which exceeds both state and regional NSW averages.
He said the project has the potential to transform the economic fortunes of the shire, attracting adventure tourists year-round.
The survey RDANI put out to MTB riders as part of building the business case drew 3289 responses, many offering expressions of support and offers to assist. Ninety-eight per cent of respondents said they were willing to travel to Tenterfield to ride the new trails.
This was considered a phenomenal response, far exceeding that of other projects RDANI has surveyed including the Armidale Rail Trail.
""Business as usual' for Tenterfield is not an option," Mr Sherry said.
"We need a game-changer."
The trails are projected to boost tourist visitation by 35,000 a year spending an additional $4.3 million, mostly in the food and accommodation sectors through extended stays, and creating 25 new jobs. And that's a conservative figure according to Mr Sherry.
Much of this money is anticipated to come from north of the border, making it an attractive prospect for the NSW Government when grant applications are being considered.