Youthful Ambitions for Tenterfield MTB Destination

Tenterfield, NSW

A northern NSW town’s social enterprise to put its youth on the right track recently reached a major milestone in its quest to become Australia’s first large-scale, year-round MTB destination.

Tenterfield’s Angry Bull Trails (ABT) late last month signed the deeds for $4.1 million in Federal Government funding to establish 174km of trails based at the Granite Belt town.

“We would like to be under construction in September or October, and deliver all the trails by December 2024,” Angry Bull Trails director Joe Smith said.

“We’re currently working with land managers to obtain final consent to construct trails and getting requests out to trail designers etcetera to come up with final designs.”

The 174km of varied trails for riders of all abilities, including people with disability, and routes for walkers is just Stage 1 of the complex. Organisers are about to submit a funding application for Stage 2, for another 50km of planned trails.

Angry Bull Trails was launched three years ago as a social enterprise to address the town’s declining youth workforce and steadily ageing population.

“Angry Bull Trails is about mountain biking and adventure tourism, but the genesis was how do we make a difference in this little community,” Joe said.

“Our goal is to stimulate the economy and create new job opportunities for kids when they’re 16, 17, 18 and graduate from school – or don’t – so they don’t leave town.

“We’re hoping in a generation, we’ll see a different culture and a different statistic. It won’t be aging population and declining workforce, it will be ‘geez we’ve got a lot of young families all of a sudden. And it’s people who grew up here and stayed’.

“Socioeconomically, Tenterfield ranks very poorly in NSW. There is no major industry other than agriculture – a bit of tourism – so where were the jobs going to come from?” Joe said.

“We worked with Regional Development Australia (RDA) and it was very clear cycling tourism works.”

A comprehensive market study by the RDA and ABT found the facility was most likely to draw visitors within a three-hour-drive radius, which incorporated Brisbane and the Gold Coast for a total population of around three million people.

35,000 Additional Visitors

According to a business case from the study: “it is estimated the trails would attract at least an additional 35,000 visitors annually to the Tenterfield shire – 19,500 new day visits and 15,500 new overnight stay. In addition, there are likely to be another 5,000 additional overnight stays from existing visitors who stay longer to use the trails, and from organised MTB events.

“$4.3 million of additional tourist expenditure from these visitors alone would generate another 25 jobs for the Tenterfield economy. The majority of this expenditure is made in the food and accommodation sectors (71%).

“It is anticipated that local employment would grow even further as ancillary businesses are developed to support the MTB trails (eg. a shuttle service, cafes, bike repairs) and with the development of other outdoor activities (eg. guided hiking and horse-riding tours).”

Joe said ABT aims to create three-full time jobs with trail maintenance and the establishment of a trail centre in the middle of town, incorporating a café and retail.

“We’ve got to be completely self-sustainable and viable so we don’t create any imposition on ratepayers,” he added.

Planning is also underway for a new bike store to be establish by a private enterprise, with hopes it will be officially opened to coincide with the launch of the trails and trail centre.
“All the pieces are there: natural assets that are perfectly suited for it and a community that wants it,” he said.

A community survey conducted by RDA received 3,800 positive responses in 10 days.

“Regional Development Australia does a lot of surveys and it was overwhelmed by the response,” Joe said.

The survey came in the wake of the 2019 and 2020 Black Summer bushfires that devastated a large portion of the Tenterfield region, compounding the area’s economic malaise.

MTB team at a mountain biking event
Angry Bull Trails team members at the Gravel n Granite event. Photo credit: Angry Bull Trails.

Gravel n Granite

In 2022 and 2023, ABT held two gravel gran fondos, Gravel n Granite, as test cases to see whether offroad cycling attractions could get people to town.

“Our mountain bike club has eight people in it, after it launched 18 months ago, and we thought our first Gravel n Granite would be lucky to get 150-200 people. We had to stop registrations at 550,” Joe said.

“We have hundreds and hundreds of fire trail, just epic back country roads most people just don’t know about.”

“We know from studies there’s 2.3 people per cycling group. Travelling for a long weekend, they spend around $180 per day. That was half a million dollars coming into the town in two days. I couldn’t believe it.

“This past March, we got 850 riders, generating $600,000 – $700,000 spent in the local community over three days.

“We’re taking a year off the gravel event and set ourselves a goal of creating the most amazing gravel route we can find. We don’t want to be the biggest destination, we just want to be the best.

“We have hundreds and hundreds of fire trail, just epic back country roads most people just don’t know about.”

Participants of a youth hub
Participants at the launch of BackTracks Tenterfield Youth Hub last September. Photo credit: BackTrack Youth Works.

BackTrack & TAFE Partnerships

As part of ABT’s social enterprise, it has partnered with another Northern Tablelands organisation, BackTrack Youth Works, which is nationally recognised for its efforts helping vulnerable young people better connect with their community, participate in education and training, or find employment.

While those youth will be a priority for ABT, it’s planning to open up the program and its activities to any young person who wants to get involved.

Joe said he needed assistance as a youth growing up in the US State of New Hampshire, and had mentors when he was aged 13 and 20.

“That made all the difference in the world for me,” according to the 56-year-old commercial construction manager.

“We’re hoping some kids will actually move here if we promote it right and it has the right vibe – and we’re going to build a culture around this.”

The organisation’s partnership with TAFE NSW began last week with a chainsaw skills course that had nine participants.

“We’ve got a whole suite of studies to roll out with TAFE in coming months, including construction, first aid, excavation, bulldozer and environmental studies,” he said.

“We’ve also been able to arrange placements with a trail building company out of Toowoomba to start upskilling the local workforce.

“We’re hoping some kids will actually move here if we promote it right and it has the right vibe – and we’re going to build a culture around this.”

ABT’s partnerships also includes teaming up with the district’s Moombahlene Local Aboriginal Land Council.

“When we build trails, we want to completely replant and work with Moombahlene land council, as the local indigenous land managers. They have a native nursery and we’d like to think they can propagate the plants,” Joe explained.

At the same time, ABT has established a business collective, to help businesses understand what visitors to the MTB destination will want and how to position themselves to capitalise.

He said ABT is the only Australian MTB project of its scale that wasn’t being driven primarily by local government, although Tenterfield Shire Council did provide some grant assistance to get the venture started.

“$4.1 million is the biggest grant ever given to anyone in Tenterfield,” he added.

“We’re proud of that but we also recognise the amount of work we have to get done is enormous.

“We’re trying to raising funds. We have $4.1 million to build infrastructure, we don’t have any money currently to operate the enterprise.

“We’ve got 12 months to raise awareness, build community. It will probably cost us about $300,000 to operate in the first year. We’ve got to promote, we’ve got to maintain, and we’ve got to look at how we cast a net to identify kids who need a bit of assistance, guidance and tutelage, then marry them up with their future employment.”

Assembling the Puzzle Pieces

Joe said the district already has all the ingredients for a successful MTB destination.

“Tenterfield has a rich cultural and natural history and we hope to tell those stories as well,” he said.

“People know Tenterfield: Peter Allen, the birthplace of federation, Banjo Patterson.

“And we’re at the intersection of routes to major population centres. East-west were on the Bruxner Highway and north-south we’re on the route to Toowoomba, Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

“We’re just puzzle makers. We’ve got all the pieces here, we just need to assemble the puzzle.”


  1. John Groom on 21st June 2023 at 10:39 PM

    I overnighted in Tenterfield last week. Tenterfield to Wallangarra would make a great rail trail.

Leave a Comment