Endurance riders fear national parks moving to restrict access

Brian Swan, Ron Males, Jo Arblaster, and Michelle Gibbs are angry at plans to limit the horse riding in Wollemi National Park. Photo: Simon Bennett
Brian Swan, Ron Males, Jo Arblaster, and Michelle Gibbs are angry at plans to limit the horse riding in Wollemi National Park. Photo: Simon Bennett

Fury is building in the horse riding fraternity at plans to "manage" horse trails in NSW National Parks, with changes to trails at Wollemi National Park in the Hawkesbury seen as the thin edge of the wedge.

National Parks has issued a draft management plan for Wollemi that may see horse trails reduced from about 50 to 19 as it moves to prevent threats to the park's ecology.

But the move has sent shudders through the NSW Endurance Riders Association who have obtained an urgent meeting with the environment minister's office on March 22.

The Association has called on Deputy Premier and NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro to be at the meeting and intervene. It is planning protest rides in Sydney to fight the changes.

Public submissions close on March 14, and this fact has also angered riders who claim they have been unable to make their voices heard.

The environment department says it is doing all it can to make sure endurance rides such as the Q60 are not affected.

It says very few people came to public meetings on the issue.

Recreational rider Mark Swain from Candelo in the Bega Valley Shire put in a submission saying how important horses were to the NSW economy.

"According to NSW National Parks this draft plan is the likely model to roll out across all regions in NSW with NSW National Parks," Mr Swain said.

"This draft plan will send a wrecking ball through these sectors, harm the economic benefits enjoyed by NSW and regional communities.

"Many in our sector are angry at the dishonest, aggressive and secretive consultation process that NSW National Parks has deployed, with the aim of just running a process and approving as much of its draft document as possible.

"Some history behind this process is that in 2000 a similar plan was put forward to restrict riding in NSW National Parks .. and was abandoned."

In a reply for The Land [a Hawkesbury Gazette sister publication], a spokesperson for Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) said NPWS acknowledges and respects the long history of horse riding in south east Wollemi National Park.

"This plan is intended to formalise, guarantee and continue access for endurance riders into the future in this park," the spokesperson said.

"All of the trails that the plan proposes to formalise are untarred roads. By formalising trails, NPWS will also take on routine maintenance of these tracks so they can continue to be enjoyed by riders while also minimising erosion.

We're not being listened to.

Endurance rider Brian Swan.

"Around 74km of official horse riding trails are proposed - a combination of shorter trails and longer endurance racing tracks (19 publicly available and a further 9 for events only).

"A small number of 'informal' trails are not included in the Draft Horse Riding Management Plan because they are either not legally accessible from public roads, include sections of private lands, could impact Aboriginal sites and/or are not currently maintained to a standard to support less experienced riders."

The draft plan was developed for a number of years and NPWS has actively engaged with the local horse riding community during this process, they said.

Endurance rider Brian Swan from Wilberforce (pictured above) wrote to Mr Barilaro urging him to consider the riders' views.

He said it threatened to be "koalagate 2.0" for the government if it locked out riders from national parks.

The changes to Wollemi would also affect property prices near the park, he said.

He maintained that the NPWS had held one-way information sessions and there had been no proper community consultation.

"We're not being listened to," Mr Swan said.

The Land understands that it is unlikely Mr Kean will be at the meeting with riders, that will be attended by members of the 'Minister's office'.

This article originally appeared on The Land.