The Illawarra Local Aboriginal Land Council and other community groups have ramped up their opposition to a plan which would see mountain bike riding legalised on Mount Keira.
Land council executive officer Paul Knight said the Aboriginal voice and others groups had been silenced in the planning of the strategy.
Members of the land council, National Parks Association, Illawarra Birders, Keiraville Community Preschool, Friends of the Botanic Gardens, Illawarra Greens, Native Plants Association, the Wilderness Society and others do not want the trails to be formalised.
“Mountain biking on Mount Keira shouldn’t be allowed because of the Aboriginal culture, biodiversity and environmental issues,” Mr Knight said.
“The environment is highly sensitive. There are threatened species. I don’t believe the mountain bikers understand or appreciate that.
“The 15 groups are coming from different walks of life, different viewpoints and have different interests in this escarpment and mountain. We are all here saying, no, step away, leave Mount Keira alone.”
The land council does not oppose mountain bike riding in the escarpment but does not support riding on formal or illegal trails on Mount Keira.
Mr Knight said the land council and groups wanted to collaborate on the strategy and he hopes to help find a way to have mountain biking sustainably formalised along parts of the escarpment.
He said Mount Keira was one of the most significant Creation Dreamtime stories for the local Aboriginal community because it was a place of education and connection to country.
“People can’t say they want to support the Aboriginal community and at the same time destroy something that is so highly significant to us,” he said. “It is so disrespectful.”
Mr Knight wants illegal riding to stop and for National Parks and Wildlife Service to better police the activity on Mount Keira.
“NPWS haven’t had the financial resources to close down the illegal tracks or to fix the walking trails,” Mr Knight said. “How are they going to manage the trails into the future?
“Eighty-two kilometres of trails need to be cleared. That is hectares of vegetation. We need to go back to square one and think about where on riding on the escarpment will have the least significant environmental and culture impact.”
National Parks Association of NSW Illawarra branch president Graham Burgess said Mount Keira was not the right location for the sport.
“The tourism’s industry’s expectation of a mountain bike park is unrealistic,” he said. “It simply does not fit with the conservation requirements of the Illawarra Escapement State Conservation Area. The trails belong somewhere else.”
Greens candidate for Keira Kaye Osborne said the Illawarra Greens supported mountain biking as a sport but did not believe Mount Keira was the right location for trails.
“Mount Keira is an area of great cultural and spiritual significance for Aboriginal people and there are a number of unique ecosystems, and animals and plants that depend on those ecosystems. Mountain biking has the potential to damage those.
“There are a lot of groups that use this mountain. The proposal is incompatible with the groups that appreciate and enjoy the mountain.
“Mount Keira deserves our protection, preservation and our respect.”
Keiraville Community Preschool director Margaret Glesson said she was trying to educate children about how to care for country.
“It is really important that from preschool age, children have a connection to nature and that they know they have a role to play in protecting nature and sacred places like Mount Keira,” she said.
Land council chairman Jade Kennedy the mountain was a place of education, not a playground.
“We don’t ride bikes through your churches, we don’t ruin things in your classroom, we don’t disrespect the spaces and places that you say are sacred, special or places of worship,” he said. “We are asking to be shown the same respect.”
The Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Strategy is on public exhibition until December 21 via the NSW Government website.