The next step towards establishing a major trail network for mountain bike riders in Creswick has been taken.
Hepburn Shire Council recently submitted a planning permit application for the first stage of the Creswick Trails Project.
The first stage includes trails predominantly located north of Melbourne Road, in addition to a portion to the south near Cheney Street in the Creswick Regional Park, on hilly, forested land traversed by creeks and gullies.
Interim chief executive officer, Bradley Thomas, said the project was now being delivered in two stages: the first a 60km section to the north of Melbourne Road and the second a 40km section south of the road.
The decision to split the project into stages came after community feedback about the draft trail alignments, in December 2019 until January 2020, during which some community members raised personal, cultural, historical and ecological concerns about the trails to the south of Melbourne Road.
"A new staged delivery methodology has been adopted for the trail network to allow Stage One trails to progress to planning permit and trails in the Stage Two area to be progressed to additional assessment, design, analysis and community engagement," he said.
All land managers have given consent for the project to proceed to a planning permit application, which will be referred to each land manager for their formal approval as part of the permit process.
Once a planning permit is received, Stage One trails will progress to construction tender.
While the application says the trail has been designed to "avoid areas of high environmental significance", and its alignment uses existing trails and roads as much as possible, it is proposed that 11.867ha of native vegetation be removed to accommodate the new trails.
Mr Thomas said "sustainable trail design" had been important to council throughout the project.
"As part of the design process, council invested in desktop and site-based assessments into the cultural, historic and ecological heritage of the project area.
"These reports were instrumental in identifying and refining the trail network to avoid possible or known areas of significance."
Trails in the stage one area were analysed by an ecologist, arborist and trail designer in early spring.
"This micrositing allowed the trails to be fine-tuned to avoid large native trees, patches of native flora like orchids, habitat trees, heritage sites and areas of possible cultural heritage significance," Mr Thomas said.
The trails were refined and microsited to avoid areas of ecological heritage, where possible, based on reports and expert advice.
A cultural heritage management plan has also been undertaken, with the trail alignments discussed with the traditional owners of the land, the Dja Dja Wurrung.
Mr Thomas said council would purchase offset credits, to be used by DELWP to revegetate areas within the catchment area.
The trails which form stage two "require more design and analysis before progressing to planning permit," Mr Thomas said.
The idea for Creswick to be a mountain bike trail destination was originally proposed by a group of riders in the area, with funding announced in January 2018.
The project will be funded through a $2.56 million grant from Regional Development Victoria, in addition to $1.5 million from Hepburn Shire Council.
The project is being undertaken on both public and private land, owned or managed by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Parks Victoria, Hancock Victorian Plantations Pty Ltd and the traditional owners of the land, the Dja Dja Wurrung.
When completed in its entirety, it will include 100-kilometres of purpose-built mountain bike trails beginning at the trailhead at Hammon Park in Creswick. The trailhead, along with a pump track, were unveiled in February 2019.
As part of the trailhead, the area will be further developed with a Community and Youth Hub consisting of public toilets, community space, a nature playground, jumps course, cyclocross track, learn to ride course and a pavilion for use by clubs and local events.
The project seeks to establish a purpose-built mountain bike trail network featuring a variety of trail types to suit different levels of experience. This will include 'adaptive trails', designed and constructed for riders with limitations riding "a standard, upright, leg powered mountain bike".
It is anticipated that the trail network will be a unique outdoor recreation experience that will see tourists flock to the region.
"The Hammon Park Trailhead and the Creswick Trails Network has the potential to create a draw for overnight visitation to Creswick and the region. This provides the opportunity for existing businesses to grow and for new businesses to invest in the area," Mr Thomas said.
"Council has also engaged with the City of Ballarat team preparing the UNESCO World Heritage Bid to discuss the Stage One trails alignments and ensure that they positively contribute to the bid through their ability to facilitate interpretation of the historic heritage of the area."
The formal engagement process is ongoing. Visit www.creswicktrails.com for more information and to to participate in the ongoing engagement process.