Great Blue Mountains Trail - Following in the footsteps of our early explorers

Authors: Neil Tredwell - Tredwell Management


From its earliest known European crossing in 1813, passage across the Blue Mountains has posed challenges to all-comers, whilst also igniting intrepid explorers' wills to overcome the barriers ahead. In some respects some of the challenges of forging a path over the mountains continue to confront us today.

The Great Blue Mountains Trail (GBMT) had its origin in the Blue Mountains Bike Plan 2020 and is an ambitious concept to develop a 36km regional trail across the Blue Mountains. The trail was identified in the Sydney Regional Recreation Trails Framework which, among other things, provides a vision to build on the identified demand for an integrated trail network. Upon its completion the trail will become an iconic trail in NSW and Australia that not only caters for the millions of people that visit the Blue Mountains each year, but will also serve as an important recreation and commuting trail linking residents from smaller townships to the district centre of Katoomba.

The GBMT community-based working group was established to provide expert industry and departmental support and guidance to steer the project during its concept and feasibility stages. Then in late 2009 Tredwell Management were commissioned to develop the ideas further. They focussed upon the feasibility of establishing a regional level cycling and walking trail from Leura to Mt York, and beyond the Blue Mountains to Lithgow and the Oberon trail networks to the west. The resulting trail links some of Australia's iconic tourist destinations including the Three Sisters, Scenic World and Govett's Leap. It also links with significant regional recreational walking trails, mountain bike trails, rock climbing destinations as well as the Mt York historical roads and precincts.

A cornerstone of the trail planning process was the development of an innovative and interactive model to assess section development priorities and options for the trail. The model calculated relative scores for each section to help determine the overall priorities. Each section and option was rated according to five main criteria: cost; land ownership issues and constraints; sustainability (in social, economic and environmental terms); accessibility; and likely use. This last took into account trail user types, market size, attributes (user friendliness, safety, facilities, uniqueness, challenge, scenery and linkages), and influence on demand for each user type.

As a component of the model, demand levels for each section were determined for: types of trail users; the relative size of markets; the potential level of use or appeal; trail attributes; and the relative use of the trail. Through this process it was possible to compare different trail sections and to determine the optimum development program for the trail.

This innovative model sets a bench mark for future trail feasibility assessments across the trail planning industry.