Members of the Hunter Mountain Bike Association have been shocked to discover that a part of their popular riding park in western Lake Macquarie is marked on maps issued by a NSW government agency as an area for hunting.
"Pre- this happening, I would not have believed this could happen," said Clint Musgrove, the president of the association, which has developed a series of trails in the Olney State Forest on land provided under an arrangement with Forestry Corporation of NSW.
The Awaba Mountain Bike Park has become a tourist drawcard. One of the most popular features is a development trail, which opened in July 2019, with the aim of attracting a wide cross-section of the community.
"That's essentially the family area of the park," Mr Musgrove said. "It's where we want parents to take their children."
However, association members learnt this week that the development trail has been marked as being in a hunting area on a map for Olney State Forest, issued by theNSW Department of Primary Industries.
"There's a very definite overlap," said Mr Musgrove. "It's a concern, to say the least."
Association members said there had been recent evidence of hunting close to the mountain bike park.
"We did hear some gunshots in the last month, and now we can see why," said Dallas Barham, the association's vice president and a trail coordinator.
"We didn't realise at the time the map was telling these guys they could use these particular zones."
Association members said a rider reported seeing two men with guns by the road leading into the park.
They were also contacted by a licenced and registered hunter. He had been looking at the map issued by the DPI on his GPS device, noted how close the mountain bike trails were to the area he was in and thought something was wrong.
Once they found out about the map, the association members contacted the Department of Primary Industries.
On its website, under the heading "Where Can I Hunt?", the DPI has Olney State Forest listed as having areas that allowed the use of firearms, dogs, bows, and "blackpowder" for those holding a NSW restricted game hunting licence, and who had written permission to enter.
In a statement to the Newcastle Herald, a NSW DPI spokesperson said hunters also had to carry a GPS device with up-to-date maps showing their location in relation to hunting and exclusion zones.
"Forestry Corporation of NSW are responsible for mapping these areas, including exclusion zones, and supply approved files to NSW DPI," the statement said.
The Newcastle Herald contacted Forestry Corporation and was referred to the DPI.
The DPI spokesperson said the area occupied by the mountain bike association under its permit was marked as excluded from hunting on Forestry Corporation maps.
"It is the association's responsibility to ensure they adhere to this permit and operate within the related exclusion zone," the spokesperson said.
"The NSW DPI Game Licensing unit is currently working closely with the Hunter Mountain Bike Association to determine if their area of operation has expanded beyond the original exclusion zone. If this has occurred, interactions with other forest users, including hunters, would be possible."
When the development trail was planned and built, Clint Musgrove said, all requirements and inspections were carried out as expected by Forestry Corporation.
The state MP for Lake Macquarie, Greg Piper, was stunned when he heard of the map issue.
"It just beggars belief we could have such a conflict of uses, with something as passive and family-oriented as a mountain bike park ... which can be exposed to the risk from hunters.
"And this is no good for anyone; hunters don't want to be there either. The last thing the hunters want is to inadvertently injure, maim or kill somebody."
Mr Piper wrote to the NSW Minister for Agriculture, Adam Marshall, on Thursday, asking for the matter to be investigated, and to have the map adjusted to ensure the safety of the public, including the mountain bike park users.
That call was echoed by the association's Clint Musgrove, saying, "We'd like to see the boundary lines of the hunting areas corrected immediately, or as soon as possible."
The DPI spokesperson said it was working with the Hunter Mountain Bike Association and Forestry Corporation to update exclusion zones and distribute updated maps as needed, adding that would be done as soon as practicable.
In the meantime, the association is erecting signs at the park's entrance and near the trails, warning hunters that it is a mountain biking area.
"Association members believe it's too close for the two parties to co-exist," said Dallas Barham.
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