Off-roading with rules for our New Normal



Sir – The Centre has off-road motoring in its DNA which could play a big part in dragging us out of the COVID bog: Let’s create publicly-administered land for fun vehicle users as well as conservation purposes.
Other places in the world are already doing this: Take Moab, Utah, USA, which rebuilt its entire economy on recreational and adventure tourism when the mining there went bust.
I’ve have long been an advocate for hiking and mountain biking, pushing for more investment in our local trail systems. We can go beyond that.
There are places for motor cross in the Territory, but there’s a real gap when it comes to kiddie quads, rock crawlers, and other vehicles that cannot be registered.
People can buy them, but there is nowhere to legally use them. Yet they represent commercial opportunities, could draw visitors to the Territory, and also keep more people living here, turning FIFO workers into locals.
In south-eastern California the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, also called Glamis Dunes, is a large sand dune ecosystem. About 40% has been set aside for recreation, and the remainder is managed for biodiversity conservation.
These dunes are one of the most famous areas in the US for off-road vehicle owners.
Motorcycles, sand rails, ATVs, and 4WD vehicles are all legally using this area.
Over major winter holidays, as many as 150,000 people may visit over a single weekend, obviously bringing a positive economic impact to nearby towns.
The world-famous Slickrock Trail is part of the Sand Flats Recreation Area, and it is managed for recreation first and foremost.
Both mountain bikers and motorcyclists use the trail.
Nearby is an area for 4WD and off-road vehicles that hosts the annual Moab Jeep Safari, attracting additional visitors to the area.
Moab is located in an arid environment with dramatic landscapes, similar to some in the Territory.
Another great example is the Hatfield-McCoy Trails in West Virginia, which is an internationally known trail system for off-road vehicles managed by a regional recreation authority with a board of directors.
Currently there are 600 miles of trails for off-road vehicles and plans for 2000 miles of trails with accompanying facilities, including commercial lodges, guides, restaurants, and camping.
This trail system caters to ATV, UATV and motorbikes, but hikers, mountain bikers, and horse riders also use it.
The Hatfield-McCoy Trails are marketed globally and visitation is from all 50 states in the US and nine countries.
The trails are well-maintained and well-regulated, including patrolling to ensure compliance with safety regulations.
We too should capitalise on our marketable points of difference, including our incredible environment and open spaces.
In some places in the world, people will travel hundreds of miles to visit trails in locations like these.
Post COVID-19, it is not hard to visualise people flying to the Territory from major capital cities, hiring recreational vehicles, and having an amazing experience.
Secure land tenure is important for continuity of some of our current major fixtures, and it is also important for the development of new motorsport events.
A regulatory framework could simply operate under the Parks and Wildlife Act but with a primary focus on recreation.  It could also deal with the licensing of these types of vehicles; providing approved travel routes for them from towns to the recreational areas; and managing environmental impacts.
The Territory could truly become known as the adventure playground of Australia.
Scott McConnell (pictured at top)
Candidate for Braitling
All photos from the rally at Moab, Utah, USA.


  1. A grand plan Scott, but without meaning to be a wet blanket, reality intervenes.
    West Virginia is spitting distance from Washington DC, Baltimore, and Pittsburg. More people than Australia.
    Likewise the South California site is close to LA, with 13 million.
    You say “people will travel hundreds of miles to visit trails in locations like these”.
    For Central Australia you have to make that “thousands”. A bloody long was to trailer your RV.
    Not to mention that we don’t have sand dune areas that could be sacrificed.
    Our rocky areas have unique and scarce biodiversity.
    Fossil fuelled environment trashing “recreation” doesn’t seem to be the sustainable tourism we need to aim for in the future.

  2. In you’re dreams. You would have to equip everyone with bolt cutters in Central Australia!

  3. Hi Charlie, More than 25 years ago I was being told similar reasons why the Larapinta Trail wouldn’t work here and mountain biking wouldn’t work here.
    The scale may be different here than the examples I have used, but that doesn’t mean the concept should be completely disregarded.
    Most Finke Desert Race participants are from interstate. There are also already local businesses catering to adventure motorbike riders.
    And, in fact, establishing some modern legislation around off-road Motorsport would reduce unregulated riding currently damaging our environment.
    In addition to providing new opportunities for tourists, it would also provide additional recreational opportunities for locals (and those we would like to encourage to become locals, like FIFO workers). Motorbike technology is evolving too. They produce far less emissions now, and there are hybrid and electric versions emerging in the market.
    Happy to keep discussing to achieve something that is sustainable and community-driven.

  4. Minister Wakefield: “I am very comfortable that we have got support for that project. I am uncomfortable with putting pressure on individuals.
    “You will never get a consensus view about this project from the non-Indigenous part of the community. Why should we expect it from the Indigenous community?”
    This statement is the underlying issue that is stopping many opportunities in the NT.
    It seems OK to not have a consensus result when it suits the agenda.
    The idea of having access for the development of a recreational tourism sector is one that has been trying to establish for years but one of the biggest hurdles is land access.
    Pastoral land getting pressure on not allowing other activities on them, all of our Indigenous lands locked up by councils that insist on total consensus on land use.
    This, as we can see, hinders economical development and stops future opportunities for people to contribute to an sustainable future. We all need to look at this now with the gravy train of free government money being used for projects that are more welfare systems than job futures that lift the standards of living.
    With the current world events we need to look at opportunities now more than ever. If all we do is just sit back and object to these ideas we will get left behind again as with the idea of adventure tourism. If we don’t get on board it will go to other states.
    This concept is starting already in Queensland. They have great coral reefs, rainforests, national parks and conservation areas as well. They have this type of activity out of Cairns all the way up to Cape Tribulation.
    South Australia has had popular adventure trips into the Simpson Desert.
    WA has it in world heritage national parks.
    This is very popular with tourists with a high disposable income.
    Again, vision is the problem in the NT. Where would we have been without those who had the vision of Uluru, Kakadu, Lichfield and other large destination of the Territory. I cannot imagine the resistance they would have if we had to build them today.
    This would be a great opportunity for The Centre if allowed to happen. You only need to see the numbers that turn up for the Finke Desert Race.
    The question of having to transport to The Centre shows the lack of foresight with this.
    Again opportunities of having local storage and workshops. Drivers could fly in helping keep numbers up, making flights look more attractive to carriers.
    Help to fill hotels, shop in local shops.
    And don’t forget to buy a bit of art work on the way out.


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