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Trail Topics

   Meetings vs Media: The Two Sides of the RTRA

    Monday, August 08, 2011

Author:  Steve Pretzel

I was looking back over some of the publicity we've generated over the past couple of years and it occurred to me that most of it is focussed on the public Off Road Vehicle Areas.

From the outside it looks like this is the RTRA's sole focus - which it isn't - so I figured we'd better put this in some perspective and at the same time give our members an understanding of how the public face of the RTRA and the behind-the-scenes work all meshes.

So let's start by stating the two main groups of riders we support.

  1. Keeping forest trails open for riders with licences and registered bike.
  2. Creating more and better legal options for unregistered bikes and riders and attractive places for families to ride together

The average rider can enjoy 50 years or more of registered / licenced riding.  Licence at 17, still riding in late 60s and beyond. That's a lot of riding to protect!

And those of us who have kids know what a great family activity trail bike riding is.  We want to take our kids exploring, to teach them how to ride off-road safely and to spend quality time together in the outdoors.

Now there may always be opportunities to ride on private land (if it's large enough and remote enough) and there will probably be more commercial ride parks in the future.  These places will always serve a purpose ... but if we lose our rights to ride on forest trails then our riding will be confined to these 'designated' areas - only.   That is not a prospect that I look forward to and I'm sure you don't either.

So the RTRA is committed to maintaining access to the thousands of kilometres of suitable trails - mainly old logging or management tracks - throughout Western Australia.  What we are trying to do is convince the land managers (principally DEC) that they should not close and rehabilitate all of them but leave as many as possible open for trail bike use.

This is not something we need publicity for.  In fact we would rather not widely publicise our work in this area for fear of triggering an outcry from the greenies who would rather see all trail bikes banned.  Instead we are working through a program of engaging with land managers, building trust, demonstrating a willingness to pitch in and resolve the many issues that threaten the future of our activity.  It's more meetings than media.  Intensive effort, but the growing recognition of trail bike riding  as a legitimate part of the trails community - and our growing relationship with DEC -  is evidence of our success.

One of the things we have to do, if we want more of these trails legally available for registered bikes, is to reduce the amount of illegal riding that occurs on them.  One way of doing this is to make more of the riding that already occurs legal (more  of this in a future blog).  The more expected approach is to encourage people not to ride where they shouldn't.  But we can't expect to do that if there are not adequate places for juniors and riders of non-road registered bikes and quads to go.

This is where the Off Road Vehicle Areas come in, along with commercial ride park operators. 

If we can create more and better legal Off Road Vehicle areas for people who can't ride legally on public trails it will help us reduce the incidence of illegal riding on those public trails - and make it easier for us to keep them open for legal riding.  These Off Road Vehicle areas also provide the legal opportunity for family-oriented riding - or at least they would if they were safer and more satisfying.

The RTRA has a vision for Off Road Vehicle Areas that is vastly different to the current uncared for, ride anywhere areas that are the legacy of expedient legislation from 1978.  That vision is for scaled down versions of 'real' trail riding; networks of trails that are purpose designed and built to deliver a satisfying, sustainable and legal trail riding experience.

The main obstacle to improving the Off Road Vehicle Areas is funding.  The redevelopment of these areas requires substantial investment, and the government needs a business case to justify the funding.  That's where the publicity comes in.  A coordinated call for more and better areas to ride that will serve as an attractant to unlicenced riders and non-road-registered bikes and quads.

We need the support of local residents, of other trails users and of course the riders themselves.  This type of opinion mobilisation responds well to media coverage, which is why so much of the publicity we've been generating has been about getting the government funding to redevelop these areas and create new ones.

So when you read stories like last weekend's West Australian that contains mis-quotes like: "a lack of decent public tracks encouraged off-road enthusiasts to ride on dangerous bush trails" don't be too alarmed. 

First of all I didn't actually say that (journalists are notorious for mis-quoting) and secondly the Off Road Vehicle Areas may be a necessary part of the strategy, but the RTRA is equally focussed on the protection of our rights as licensed riders on registered bikes to ride 'those dangerous bush trails' - now and into the future.