October 16, 2005

The Long Slide to Oblivion

As I sit here at the keyboard, waiting for inspiration to strike for this month's trip coordinator's report, I'm experiencing a slight feeling of frustration. You see, this is the second time I've been trip coordinator for the club – the first was in 1989 – and as I was cleaning up my “office space” at home recently I happened to come across the main tools I used to organise trips that year; it was a simple date planner and a map of Sydney and the surrounding regions. On that map I had marked in all the 4WD destinations the club regularly used and that one little map formed the basis of my trip planning for the whole year.

As I sat and looked at the dots on the map which marked out our favourite spots to air down and lock hubs, I was struck by the number of destinations that are no longer available… Heathcote Gorge, Oxford Falls , McDonald Ridge, Bowen Mountain and Yalwal Creek to name just a few. For those who have only recently joined the 4WD scene, these names will mean very little, but to those who remember them, they bring back wonderful memories of interesting and challenging tracks. Those who have been around the club even for the last couple of years will have seen other classic areas such as Porters Road , Cabbage Tree Lane and the Appin Tracks close down with alarming regularity.

There aren't many places on that old map that still exist for our enjoyment. Menai is still there, although access needs to be prearranged and there are a number of restrictions as to where we can and can't go. If you're prepared to drive a few hours to get somewhere, there are still a few places left… Oberon/Jenolan, Watagans, Lithgow, etc, although the types of tracks and the amount of access we have are getting more and more restricting all the time. If you read the forum on the website you may have heard that many of the best tracks through the Watagans were recently graded back to D grade forest roads. It's quite sad.

So for me as the trip coordinator, the frustration arises when I try to put together trips for the next few months. The question is to where? And how do we cater for everyone?

Oh, don't get me wrong, there are still plenty of places to go and things to do – there are more places of natural beauty to see in this country than you could do in a lifetime – but it's not 4WDing Jim, not as we know it. The good ole tracks, where you aired down to 8 psi and took all day to go a mere 3 kms are getting more and more difficult to find.

I know those tracks are still out there, but they are becoming jealously guarded secrets. As more hard tracks close, those who know about the remaining ones are becoming less willing to share their locations for fear of them becoming overused and subsequently closed. It's kind of sad because it creates a situation where the handful of “good tracks” are shared only by those in the know, a kind of “high priesthood” of offroading, while the rest of us never become privy to these spots. But it's a legitimate concern and I understand their logic – there is no doubt that as the pressure on a track increases, it gives the powers-that-be more ammunition to close them down, so why share them and accelerate that process?

So where does the future of 4WDing lie? It's a good question. I'd like to be optimistic and think that managed land access and access-in-return-for-cleanups is the answer. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't… I don't know. I do know that in the almost 20 years I've been observing 4WDing, as a group we've become more political, more environmental, more organised, more obliging to the wishes of governments and the Association, and where has it gotten us? Take a look at my old map and that ought to tell you. For all the great work being done by hardworking, well intentioned people, we have significantly less than what we started with.

Whatever we're doing, it obviously isn't working.

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