THE opening of the $2.5 million Harcourt Mountain Bike Trails on Friday could signal the beginning of significant economic growth in the Harcourt township, according to the local council and state government.
The town was identified as the main growth area in Mount Alexander Shire, and the mountain bike park – known as the La Larr Ba Gauwa Park – has been predicted to attract 100,000 visitors per year within five years.
State government ministers attended the opening of the path, which includes 34 kilometres of “world class” trails in the hills east of the township, including trails around the Oak Forest and multiple peaks in the area.
Mount Alexander Shire mayor Bronwen Machin said the region would need to prepare to accommodate a rapid increase in visitor numbers.
“We as a community are going to have to learn how to live with 100,000 extra visitors, and what a beautiful problem that is,” she said.
“It’s going to generate huge amounts of income for us.”
The idea was first pitched to MPs four years ago.
It was designed for visitors to park in Harcourt itself and then cycle two kilometres to the trails in order to avoid cars parking in the trail areas.
There are beginner’s trails, seven for intermediate skill level and three “black diamond-style” runs for advanced mountain bike riders.
The trails could also be promoted to attract international-standard mountain biking events.
Minister for regional development Jaala Pulford said the park would result in growth in Harcourt.
“I hope you’re all ready for a bit of change,” she said.
“At the local coffee shop they’re already seeing quite a lift off in visitor numbers.
“I think Harcourt in five years is going to be very different to the Harcourt I grew up very near and in.”
The trails were designed in consultation with nine neighbouring property owners,who DELWP project manager Russell Manning said were supportive of the idea.
There was also heavy consultation with the Dja Dja Wurrung people. The name La Larr Ba Gauwa means “stones and mountain” in the local Indigenous language, and the shelter at the base of the trails was designed to reflect traditional shelters.
Mr Manning said local mountain biking experts helped to design the trails, and they aimed to minimise the environmental footprint.
“We want people to park in Harcourt, and take the bike path up here, and ride the trails,” he said.
“We don’t want to have an environmental footprint here with a big car park. We want to support the economic development for Harcourt and its businesses.”
The trails are now open to the public.