If you want to Ride Kowen/Sparrow now is the time

Dear fellow mountain bike nuts and Sparrow Hill fans.
The good news is always that your back tyre hasn’t gone flat overnight after your last ride.
The bad news is that time is nearly up for Sparrow.
We’ve always dreaded the thought that one day the harvesting machines will thunder into Kowen Forest and clear-fell our trees.
That’s what happens in a commercial pine forest, and that time is almost upon us.
But what if the ACT Government were to declare Sparrow Hill a recreational area? The trees that make the Sparrow tracks what they are to us could be saved.
I have written to the MLA for Molonglo, Shane Rattenbury, who is also ACT Minister for Sports and Recreation, asking for his help to persuade the ACT Government to redesignate Sparrow Hill recreational. His office says they are investigating.
A senior Forestry officer, acting in good faith within the constraints of the land manager’s mandate, has offered to work with us to save the tracks. He will still take the trees, but has offered mechanical help to re-expose the tracks as the massive debris of harvesting is cleared up. And he will direct the harvesters to avoid damaging the tracks as far as possible.
Having built half of Sparrow’s 50km of tracks, I am very aware of the practical difficulties of succeeding in this task.
Notwithstanding the damage I would expect, if the tracks were recovered we would be left with bare hills exposed to freezing winter winds, rain, strong, hot summer winds, dust and broiling sun.
The intended replanting of the forest around the tracks would not see usable shade for 10 to 15 years. One can see how little shade there is at Stromlo after eight or nine years.
Hopefully, our representatives in government won’t fail to acknowledge that the community itself has created a world-class mountain biking facility that many municipalities would give a great deal to have. And without touching the public coffers.
We are the envy of visitors from far afield, and the sparrowhill.info website is getting hits from around the world.
Every mountain biker can do something to help save Sparrow Hill.
Please let Mr Rattenbury know your feelings about Sparrow and how you would like to see its future. His email address is RATTENBURY@act.gov.au.
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SF Trailboy

Likes Bikes and Dirt
I'm in - great cause and hopefully some noise generates a positive response.

After riding the Kow this year and not even being a regualr rider I believe its more than worth the time, given what has been invested by people like yourself there.

"Dear Minister,

I am writing to you today to further show support for the great community asset that is Sparrow Hill. As you would no doubt be aware logging in this commercial forest is about to begin and we as community users and volunteers feel we would like to raise concerns with you in regards to damaging and losing a very valuable asset. Understandably this is a commercial forest that is not in dispute, but what we would hope to achieve is a respectable outcome for all the hard work, volunteering and dedication that has gone into making this forest a world class facility.

What I am asking you for as the minister for sport and recreation is that you tirelessly and strenuously investigate as many possible outcomes as you can to help save this tourism generating asset that this community of people have worked extremely hard for. It won’t just be the users that are effected but also local business who reap the benefits of what volunteers have created. A compromise of an exclusion zone around the trails of deforestation would be a decent starting point, however the goal should be the total preservation of the forest and trails for all to continue to use.

I appreciate your time and respect that you have many matters of great importance, but please do not under estimate the power of a tight community which has spent countless man hours developing and fostering a venue which brings people from far and wide to the the ACT to enjoy this world class facility."
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Eats Squid
Thanks Alan, email sent. Here are my words:

"Re: Sparrow Forest Mountain Bike trails.
Dear Mr Rattenbury,

I recently learnt through a Mountain Biking colleague that Sparrow Hill forest is due to be logged soon. Sparrow hill and Kowen contain some of the best mountain biking trails in the country, and host multiple big events. Being a Victorian, I recently dragged the family on a trip to Canberra for the primary reason of riding the wonderful network of trails the region has to offer. The amount of love and work that has gone into the Sparrow network is truly astonishing.

Unfortunately clear-felling would have very negative consequences both in the immediate and medium term time-frames. I whole-heartedly support the concept of declaring the area a recreational area. I am sure that the long term economic consequences of this for the region would be very positive.

Yours Sincerely

Pastavore (well, insert proper name here)"


I'll tells ya!
Staff member
I think getting the chaps involved that run the big events there like the Mont24 would be useful.

If they can display how much revenue is generated and how much of that comes from interstate I think you'd have a stronger case to argue.

Kowalski Brothers

Legends of the Shovel
Sparrow (and East Kowen) MTB trails

Hi All.

Just so you know, we (being the Kowalski Brothers and Self Propelled Enterprises) have been in discussions with the land manager and government about the mountain bike trails in Kowen and Sparrow Hill for some time now — both from our perspective as trail builders and also as event organisers (and riders more broadly).

We invited Shane Rattenbury and his advisers out for an MTB ride through the trails about six weeks ago and during this time we talked about the trail network, the unique aspects of the area, the popularity of the trails and the scale and importance of events held in the area. Shane returned a few weeks later and started the Mont 24 Hour Race for us.

Through these and subsequent meetings with PCS, I believe there is a very elevated awareness of the popularity and value of this area for recreational riding and for events. There is also a genuine an interest to learn more. They have praised the work of the trail builders in the area (Alan Anderson, Paul Cole, Kowalskis and their volunteers et al) and recognise that this is a significant contribution to mountain biking in the ACT region.

As it happens, I have seen the forestry plan and Sparrow is not slated for clearfall at this stage. Other compartments on East Kowen side are however and we are working with the land manger to find solutions that will maintain the riding amenity whilst at the same time permitting normal (and in some cases necessary) forestry operations. We have always built trail under the clear understanding that that ACT pine forests are working plantations and that means at some point we will lose trail.

What we would like to work towards is a system where the the recreation value is well understood and considered within the broader management plan. A recreation preserve is an ideal of course, but I believe there is plenty of middle ground in which we can work. Having a productive (and constructive) working relationship with the land managers and the various other stakeholders is fundamental to this process.

Alan Vogt
(aka Des Kowalski)
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Eats Squid
Perhaps one way of contributing to the prevention of pine harvesting around the Sparrow and other trail networks is for riders and trail users to band together and offer to compensate Forestry ACT for the market value of the trees involved. Then it'll be much easier from a cost perspective to transfer land from a forestry designation to a non forestry designation.

Save Sparrow. Buy a tree!

Bucket Master

Canberra Off-Road Cyclists
Don't Panic

OK - So in all likelihood the trees at Sparrow have a good while yet. I do not believe that there is any clear and present danger.

I have a very close working relationship with the Minister and his office and have been working very closely with Des Kowalski to highlight the benefits of the Kow and Sparrow as riding areas for some time now. Indeed we recently hosted the Minister and a couple of his staff on a quick three hour tour just to show him what was out there. A couple of days ago I spoke with one of his senior advisers (initiated by them) for a good 45 minutes about the issue and provided them with a great deal of peer reviewed and forestry generated material on recreational users and forests. We have another tour with some very senior bureaucrats planned within the next three weeks. In other words there are strong relationships at very senior levels, they are aware of the issues and want to work towards positive solutions.

Over the last 6 months I have been pulling together the data on the number of visitors that mountain biking brings to the community and have been working on a rudimentary cost benefit analysis (unfortunately I am no economist just an experienced recreational/urban/social/health planner and advocate) incorporating the health benefits that show just what these forests bring to the local community on an annual basis (not just the one off benefit of cutting down the trees).

To cut a long I don't think that jumping up and down and e-mailing the Minister at the moment isn't needed nor, in the short term, will be particularly helpful. Rather it will mean that a key public servant will be forced to respond to concerns and it will not build (rather it will strain) a strong relationship with the community.

I think that what is needed is a coordinated response to the development of more permanent recreational facilities and for this to happen in the first instance is for strong and productive relationships. Ultimately the development of such a facility will be through community consultation and it is at this stage that input will be best served.

I know that Alan, Paul and the Kowalskis have put in more than 10,000 volunteer hours in developing a network of amazing trails and they should be commended for their efforts. I know the Minister and his team are very aware of this also. All things being equal, the relationship development and advocacy work that is happening in the background will see their work not going to waste.



Likes Dirt
Bucket, Alan and Alan. It's truly humbling to think of the work you guys have put in and gift you have given us over the years. It's also very nice to know you are there and doing this advocacy work for us.

From the bottom of my shockies, thank you.

Kowalski Brothers

Legends of the Shovel
Trial thinning

The Kowalski Brothers, Paul Cole and Alan Anderson had a productive meeting today with representatives from ACT Government (Forestry, PCL and Minister's office). We met at Kowen Forest and discussed a range of things, including a proposed harvesting trial specifically designed to protect mountain bike tracks during thinning operations. This trial thinning (to be conducted on the Tanglewood trail in Kowen, near Orchard Road) could commence in as early a couple of weeks with a view to assessing outcomes by the end of January. The land managers were genuinely keen to hear our views and are clearly willing to explore options in consultation with us. We think this excellent news.
Alan (aka Des Kowalski)
Update for friends of sparrow hill

Thanks to the many friends of Sparrow Hill who have agreed it is worth a shot trying to have Sparrow declared a recreational area, saving the trees and mountain bike tracks for an extended period.
The state of things right now: A senior Forestry official has confirmed my claim that when Sparrow is harvested, the mountain bike tracks will disappear. Should anyone feel so inclined, new tracks of a different character could be built around the exposed hills, although this would be a herculean task, as in addition to the land damage and remaining harvest debris, the land will be ploughed for replanting. A compartment clear-felled four years ago was abandoned by me as too difficult to rebuild in. Thinning operations took place in Sparrow more than four years ago, and clear-fell harvesting is next. I'm now told this could be within five years, not as imminent as earlier Forestry information indicated. Buffer harvesting in Sparrow's track concentration is not considered feasible. Even if a phased harvesting took place, over a number of years, eventually Sparrow will be denuded. Phased clear-fell harvesting, removing, say, half-kilometre-square blocks at a time, would quickly render the mountain bike loops unusable, and the replanting program in each section would be ineffectual for sun and weather protection for 10 to 15 years in each case.
ACT Sports and Recreation Minister Shane Rattenbury's office is currently gathering input from all parties concerned.
Meantime, care, maintenance and development of the Sparrow tracks continues, and all things Sparrow can be found on http://sparrowhill.info
Good riding, all.
Sparrow Hill response

Dear Friends of Sparrow Hill
ACT Sport and Recreation Minister Shane Rattenbury has formally responded to the request that he lobby the ACT Government to redesignate Sparrow Hill recreational, to extend the life of the mountain bike tracks and the trees on which they depend.

Mr Rattenbury’s office spent considerable time and energy researching the question, but his response, printed below, is disappointing.

Unless the ACT Government steps in well before harvest day to support an extended life for the tracks and trees, the idea of a consultative approach to the future of Sparrow is of little comfort. Contrary to the tenor of Mr Rattenbury’s response, a senior Forestry official has stated that he will be unable to harvest Sparrow Hill leaving buffers of trees around the tracks, and that the tracks will be lost. Therefore, the results of trial buffer harvesting in Kowen East will not benefit Sparrow Hill, as he states they will.

It also appears he has misinterpreted the request, focusing on only the tracks (his Para. 3), forgetting that we also wish to extend the life of the trees, without which the tracks will lose their appeal.

And even if harvesting is not contemplated for at least three years, this is hardly a reason not to be pro-active.

Any future rebuilding of tracks permitted at Sparrow Hill will be on naked land for many years.

Sincere thanks to the many friends of Sparrow who had the courage to independently voice their feelings in support of the “Save Sparrow” campaign. Please stay in touch on http://sparrowhill.info and be alert to any future opportunity.

From Mr Rattenbury:
Dear Mr Anderson
Thank you for your email of 23 October 2014 in relation to mountain biking activities at Kowen Forest and your concerns about the future harvesting of the forest.

The ACT Government shares your enthusiasm for the variety of mountain biking venues available in the ACT and greatly appreciates your personal contribution in the development and upkeep of tracks at Sparrow Hill.

I understand that your concern is the loss of significant sections of hand built mountain bike trails when harvesting machinery comes through an area. I can advise that TAMS does not plan to undertake any clear-fell works in any of the Sparrow Hill compartments at least for the next three years, as other older trees in Kowen Forest are prioritised for harvesting.

I am aware that you attended a meeting with an adviser from my office and TAMS officials at Kowen Forest on Monday 1 December 2014 with representatives from a number of groups that develop and use the mountain bike trails in Kowen Forest and Sparrow Hill. It is intended that a pilot will be undertaken in Kowen Forest over the coming months with the involvement of mountain bike user groups into harvesting trees while maintaining as much as possible the mountain bike trails.

Results of this trial will be able to be applied to other areas, including Sparrow Hill. Given there are no immediate plans for harvesting within Sparrow Hill, there will be adequate time for consultation and planning.

You may be aware of the approach being applied at the Majura Pines Recreation area, which is at a similar stage in the forest management cycle to Sparrow Hill.

A Concept Master Plan 2014 has been developed and is available to view at www.tams.act.gov.au/parks-recreation/recreational activities/maiura-pines- recreation-area.

After extensive community consultation the Majura Pines Concept Master Plan outlines a shared vision to return that area to being a well used informal recreational venue, while maintaining it as a working forest.

Majura’s forest operations are anticipated to involve harvesting and replanting in three phases with around four years between each operation. This is a significant alteration to a forest harvesting operation concerned solely with financial return. Revenue loss from less efficient forest operations is offset by increased benefits from recreation.

The ACT Parks and Conservation Service is committed to working with all interested parties to maintain both the recreation and timber values in all of our working forests, including Sparrow Hill.

Thank you for raising this matter with me. I hope that the information provided is of assistance.
Yours sincerely
Shane Rattenbury


I'll tells ya!
Staff member
As far as I was aware Sparrow was supposed to be going first. Not sure what is happening now but I guess if they're moving on one side it can't be long until they move on the other side as well.