Who built – is building – Sparrow Hill?
The Kowen Forest enclave of Sparrow Hill was introduced to mountain biking not long after the horrific bushfires of 2003 demolished the cherished tracks on the slopes of Mt Stromlo.
Former rally car driver Paul Cole, who had built many of the Stromlo MTB tracks, had converted to two wheels, and ferreted out Sparrow Hill for his new tracks. He had fond memories of Sparrow, as viewed through the spattered windscreen of a speeding rally car.
With clearance from the ACT land managers, he began the task of rebuilding the lost link in Canberra’s social structure.
Mostly working alone, but with occasional helpers such as Nigel McGinty (McGinty’s) and Chris Short (now-defunct Japanese Garden), he forged tracks through rough, pine-forested territory on the western slopes of Sparrow Hill, giving a relieved mountain biking community, and CORC, a new home in which to indulge their passion.
He set varying courses, organised CORC races, and was the core element that once again galvanised mountain-biking organisation in Canberra.
It was after one of those races that a couple of riders approached Paul. They said their names were Matt Nolte and Alan Anderson. They said they had built many of the original tracks at Greenhills-Stromlo Forest. And they said they would like to start at the extremity of Paul’s tracks, at that time in the Spider Web/Rock Hopper area, and complete a single-track loop right around the Sparrow Hill sector.
Those who know Paul Cole will be able to envision him saying, “Go to it, boys.”
They got to it, and while Paul continued his work throughout the eastern, western and central areas of the forest, they started to shape their dream: To be able to ride single-track around the entire forest.
First it was Rigour Mortis, then More Boar, Gum Gully, Ice Dam, See-Saw, Pig Hollow – bringing them to a landmark point. They had reached Block 9 Road, the main north-south fire-road dividing the forest in two.
Next was Dog Stirred – and then, for the first time, they linked up with some of Paul’s work, Nutcracker and the now-harvested Ingledene, and their individual efforts became one force that track for track drove them closer to the target.
Paul was busy with the forerunners of Blue Lagoon, Fun House, Brown Water, Barney’s, Waterside Way, and others that would eventually help fulfil Matt and Alan’s dream.
His tireless mattock also created the Dunny Track and McGinty’s, key tracks into the forest, and later developed, among others, Pink Rock Loop, a 3.5km addition that beckons as you get close to home.
Matt and Alan went on to the outer eastern slopes of the actual Sparrow Hill, and built The Sweeper and Sidewinder (both lost to thinning, but now brought into a new Sidewinder), Traffic Jam, Choc Monte, the technically challenging Sparrow Loop (now part of The Trig), and undeniably the most popular thing ever to hit Sparrow Hill – the fast-flowing, heart-thumping Bobsled.
Bobsled emulated a bobsled run, and became iconic for Sparrow Hill. It hit the Internet. People came from far and wide, asking after it, even years later. Locals revered it – in spite of the odd one getting carted off for medical attention.
Sadly, Bobsled is no more. In 2010, governments decided the Bobsled valley would be a good route for an upgrade to the Kings Highway.
And unfortunately, other pursuits, such as work, a rock-crawling Jeep, travel and marriage, had taken Matt from Sparrow Hill.
Paul and Alan, usually working alone, sometimes joining forces, put new tracks into the loop, and created numerous loops of different length.
They are still putting endless hours into new tracks, improvements and maintenance, and still without financial or mechanical assistance.
Some of Paul’s early tracks wound through the western sector, now known as the Archery area. But others had designs on that territory, and mountain biking was moved out for the sport of field archery.
However, that need evaporated at the time the forest was thinned and the Kings Highway was re-routed through the northern end.
For Paul, 2014 marked a return to his Sparrow beginnings, and his mattock went back to work in the west, creating the Archery Loop, of about 3.5km, with nine individual tracks.
The forest thinning, a commercial practice, put Sparrow on a roller-coaster of lost and recovered tracks. The once 38km of tracks dwindled to as low as 6km of available riding. But within two years, as tracks were recovered, this grew again to more than 40km.
Occasionally, one or several helpers are conscripted (yes, you CAN volunteer), and Paul and Alan value their contributions highly.
We would dearly love to be able to name every man and woman who has lent a hand building Sparrow, but even though there aren’t many, a few names escape us. If you can help us compile a list of those helpers, please contact us through this website, and when we think we have near enough all of them, their contribution will be properly recognised here.
Sparrow Hill has four well-maintained, well-signposted loops ranging from 5km to 50km, and a full-time caretaker.
It can boast having some of the finest mountain-biking in Australia – and its own website to show it off!