Policy Document on Shared Use of Walking Trails

The policy document of the Friends of the Heysen Trail in regards to when it’s appropriate to share the use of walking trails with cyclists, horse riders and other trail users.

The Friends of the Heysen Trail and Other Walking Trails Inc. (the Friends) supports walking / hiking in South Australia through a range of activities directed toward the Heysen Trail, the State’s iconic long distance walking trail, and other walking trails in South Australia.

Two of the objects of the Friends are “to promote public awareness and usage of the Heysen Trail and other walking trails in South Australia” and “to assist and advise on the development and maintenance of the walking trails of SA”. Other objects relate to protecting the rights of walkers, the environment and making submissions to government authorities.

The Heysen Trail is Australia’s longest Walking Trail established and maintained specifically for walkers. It stretches for 1,200 km from Cape Jervis to Parachilna Gorge. The Trail is managed by the Department for Environment & Water (DEW) and the Friends provide valuable assistance through volunteer work and resources to maintain the Trail, to provide infrastructure, and to promote the Trail.

The Heysen Trail covers a wide variety of territory and different land uses. Much of the Trail has been developed as a dedicated walking trail through public and private property. Some sections of the Trail follow established tracks through public parks and forest areas. In other sections, the Trail follows existing public roads, where other trail options have not been available.

The Friends policy is that the Heysen Trail, as an entity, is for walkers / hikers. Most walkers hike to enjoy the ambience of the outdoors. On narrow walking trails this is incompatible with vehicle (bicycle) use.

Regarding shared use trails, there are two other important factors that concern the Friends:

  1. Safety: Walking trails are developed for walkers and are generally narrow and designed for low speed travel. Grades can be steep and change quickly, and corners may by very sharp. The speed difference between walkers and cyclists using a shared walking trail creates a dangerous situation, particularly with steep slopes and bush settings. Similarly, riding of horses in close proximity to walkers is a safety hazard. There are many long sections of the Heysen Trail which are not formed trails; in these sections the Trail is a “bush walk”, or a “rock climb”, with markers to show the way, unsuited to bicycles or other vehicles.
  2. Trail Maintenance: A continuing problem with maintaining the trail is water eroding the path. This becomes much more severe where the Trail surface is damaged from bicycles or horses. Tyres and hooves, especially with horseshoes, break up the compacted surface of the trail which dramatically speeds the erosion of the formed path. The Friends are a major contributors to Trail maintenance and we are dependent on volunteer labour for that maintenance.

In summary, the Friends policy is as follows:

  1. Where the Trail consists of a narrow track (less than 1.5m), its use is restricted to walkers only.
  2. Where the track consists of natural rough rocky territory or along narrow creek-beds, its use is restricted to walkers only.
  3. Sharing the Heysen Trail use with other users, including cyclists and horses, is to only occur on wider sections designed for such use, or along roads and vehicular access tracks.
  4. Where the Heysen Trail is forced to follow public roads, The Friends will work with road authorities to provide where possible, a safe walking track separated from other road users.
  5. The Friends will work to eliminate the practice of forcing walkers to walk on open roads, between the traffic flow and installed safety barriers.

Ratified at Council meeting, 20 March 2013.
Reviewed and re-ratified October 2019.
To be reviewed in 2024.