Glen Jacobs remembers the first day he visited the north-east Tasmanian town of Derby — “It was like a ghost town”, he said.
Mr Jacobs heads World Trail, a company which specialises in constructing mountain bike trails, and was there to scope out forest around the small town which had been left devastated by job losses in mining and timber industries.
With world-class mountain bike trails having opened to riders a couple of years ago, Derby was earning a reputation that was drawing an estimated 30,000 bike enthusiasts to the region each year.
“Now there’s cars everywhere, there’s people everywhere, it’s energetic. It’s like Disneyland on dirt,” Mr Jacobs said.
It is a scenario many local councils and state governments are hoping to replicate in small towns across the country, as they realise the cash boost mountain bike tourists can bring to local economies.
The track at Derby in north-east Tasmania has been credited with rejuvenating the local economy. (Supplied: Dorset Council)
Lining up to be ‘the next Derby’
Mr Jacobs’ company, one of several operating around the country, is regularly being approached from people wanting to build mountain bike parks like the one that has revitalised the local economy in north-east Tasmania.
“Everybody says we want our town to be the next Derby,” he said.
Denise Cox, trails and operations manager with Mountain Bike Australia, said phenomenal growth in the sport’s popularity was being reflected in swelling numbers of new trail projects in regional areas.
“There’s a number of regions that are looking at placing themselves as Australia’s next mountain bike destination,” Ms Cox said.
“If you can design the trails and have all the support facilities that people look for to value-add to their experience, then the idea is that people would stay overnight, or longer, and therefore invest in the local community.
“The community gets to see the economic benefits of mountain biking.”
Other regional towns are hoping to replicate the economic success the Derby region is enjoying from mountain bike tourists. (ABC News: Sallese Gibson)
Dozens of new projects in the pipeline
Ms Cox can reel off a long list of projects underway, or in planning stage in nearly every state and territory.
In Queensland there are new trails or upgrades to existing trails being built in the Gold Coast hinterland and on the Sunshine Coast.
Alpine villages, like Mt Buller, Falls Creek, Thredbo and Mt Beauty have tapped into mountain biking to boost summer visitation, some having recently added additional trails to their networks.
There are new trails and parks recently completed or being planned for regional Victoria, the state’s Yarra Valley, New South Wales’ south coast, south-west WA, on the outskirts of Adelaide and around Alice Springs.
Ms Cox stressed it was by no means an exhaustive list with new plans, as well as upgrades and additions to existing trails being added all the time.
With that development, many regional bodies are making mountain biking a key plank of tourism master plans.
What is clear is that from the country’s west to east, mountain bike tourism is being hailed as an economic boost for regional economies and a potential saviour for depressed country towns.
Collie has been identified as a mountain bike hub of national significance. (Supplied: Common Ground)
In Western Australia’s south-west, the Shire of Collie is overseeing plans to develop new mountain bike trails in an area already popular with cycle tourists.
The Shire has identified mountain biking tourism as a rapidly growing area with big demand for new experiences and is hoping day trippers and overnight visitors will spend money on food, drinks and accommodation and splash cash in local shops.
Victoria’s Goldfields aiming for global significance
On the other side of the country in central Victoria, construction will soon start on 100-125 kilometres of mountain bike trails in the town of Creswick.
“It has the potential of turning the town into a real outdoors destination,” said Mark Travers, project manager of the Creswick Bike Trails project.
The Victorian Government, local council and community is spending $3 million on the Creswick project which is forecast to attract 90,000-100,000 visitors to the region, and deliver $9-12 million per year in economic benefits.
Further up the road, work is already underway on building 34 kilometres of trails at Harcourt, set to open early next year.
The Victorian Government has tipped nearly $2 million into building the trails which they hope will draw 100,000 visitors per year within five years and inject millions of dollars into the local economy.
Once the Creswick trails are up and running late next year, Mr Travers sees scope to promote the Victorian Goldfields region and its track that connects Ballarat to Creswick and Harcourt, opening up about 500 kilometres of cyclable trails.
He said he believed it would put the region on the map as a globally-significant cycling destination and bring in the tourism dollars.
In planning the Creswick project, Mark Travers’ team have looked to the experience of Derby where Tim Watson, general manager of Dorset Council, said they had found that mountain bikers not only spend, but spend big.
“What we understood about them [mountain bike tourists] from day one is they are a high yielding visitor,” Mr Watson said.
“They will spend as much money as you will allow them to spend. If you’ve got complimentary experiences, they will spend.”
Glen Jacobs of World Trail said many people are no longer content to spend their holidays sitting by the pool.
“They want to go on their holidays and go for rides or climb a mountain. People are seeking adventure in their holidays, that’s a great thing, that’s what’s really good for small towns,” he said.
Denise Cox of Mountain Bike Australia said as the sport attracts more children and females, more family groups are participating together.
“People are planning their family holiday around specific mountain bike opportunities,” she said.
Bike enthusiasts are planning destination holidays around mountain biking opportunities. (Supplied: Dave Acree/Mountain Bike Australia)
Tapping the tourism dollar
But with so many new projects on the go, is there a limit to the number of regional towns that can tap the mountain biking tourism dollar?
Mark Travers at Creswick was cautious.
“I absolutely think that there’s a limit to how many of this style of park can be built and I hope that we don’t go crazy all over Australia,” he said.
Denise Cox acknowledged a risk of oversaturating the market, but said she thought the beauty of the sport was that different locations offered vastly different experiences, depending on the local terrain and vegetation.
“Riding in Derby would offer a completely different experience to riding in Alice Springs, or riding on a local trail network on the south side of Brisbane,” she said.
In Tasmania, Tim Watson was not worried about new mountain bike projects, including those within in his own state superseding Derby as the ‘go to’ destination.
“I think as other quality destinations come on board in Australia it will grow the sport and I think it will make that pie larger,” he said.
“I don’t see other locations cannibalising our visitation. In fact, I think that the bigger we make mountain biking, I think it will only help Derby.
“The bigger the pie, the better for everybody.”
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