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The Trailblazer

Glen Jacobs is a man living the well-trodden adage, ‘when you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life’. A man whose name is synonymous with mountain biking, exploring and building trails for adventure has been living his best life his whole life.

“Growing up in West Cairns, I was always interested in the scrub. I used to follow all the wallaby trails then try to ride them on my bike. I was 8 years old, and I remember building trails at 10. I’d put a little bridge over this creek and that one to ride on… it’s always been in my blood. It wasn’t until the late 80s when I bought my first mountain bike and I started riding with friends. I knew all the old trails and so we’d be off exploring for hours carrying, riding, getting hopelessly lost spending nights by the creek.

“The number of people that joined in or wanted to kept increasing, so we decided to start a club – the Cairns MTB Club. One of the first things we wanted to do was get a state championship event up and running. We started running small events, but people would come from all over the country. So then, it became a case of, ‘wouldn’t it be great if we got an international event here – experience the reef, the rainforest and adventure biking all in one!’ The club had only been going for a few years when we hosted the first MTB World Cup in 1994 – the first time in Australia – with Cairns as a fully functional tourist destination.

“Outdoor adventure is spectacular. Cairns is a great, beautiful little city. But it’s once you get out a couple of kilometres, that’s where the adventure starts. Cairns is an awesome stepping off point for adventure and exploration of this stunning region. There are so many mountains to climb, waterfalls to explore, rivers to float down, beaches to explore. And then there are two extraordinary World Heritage listed areas – the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest.”

Fast forward almost twenty years, and Jacobs’ company, World Trail, founded with business partner Dylan Jeffries, has moved from designing tracks specifically for mountain bike racing to delivering world-class experiences for recreational riders and hikers. Here in Cairns, both the sport and the region’s biggest growth area is now adventure tourism and, as Jacobs is quick to point out, this means more people riding bikes, more often.

“People will travel to a destination to ride,” says Jacobs likening mountain biking to other popular landscape-based sports like skiing or endurance hiking. “You are going to travel to Atherton, you are going to travel to Tasmania, you are going to travel to Switzerland or Thredbo or New Zealand, you are going to go to all these different places to find adventure. Mountain biking is now a lot like skiing in terms of tourism. No one ever goes skiing for just a day, it’s always for a few days. You stay over, take in the scenery, the trails; you stay in the accommodation there, frequent restaurants… and then do it all again the next day.”

World Trail is Jacobs’ business baby and is one of the largest and most experienced mountain bike trail companies in the world. Since it started 15 years ago, World Trail has proudly designed and constructed every World Cup, World Championship Enduro World Series and Olympic mountain bike trail course in Australia; they’ve built over 300 kilometres of recreational trails as well as planned and created hundreds of trail projects internationally, and have developed a new best standard for both competitive mountain biking and recreational riding. Sustainable trails that connect the world, all whilst respecting the natural environment – most certainly, a new paradigm for outdoor adventure. Jacobs himself is also the first and only Australian to be inducted into the Mountain Biking (MTB) Hall of Fame for his pioneering efforts within the cycling industry.

In its beginning, trails were only for the sporting elite. “It was all about race, race, race,” says Jacobs. “There were no recreational riders. About 20 years ago, things started to change. People just wanted to go for a ride which is where World Trails started. Of course, we still design and build racetracks, but usually on top of the recreational trail. The race trail is only used a couple of times a year, so we figured we may as well get as many people using it, no matter the experience level, as much as possible.

“Derby in Tasmania is a perfect example of what adventure tourism can do for a town. Derby, in the North East of Tasmania, is a small mining town with only 200 residents. They hadn’t sold a house in a decade or two, but it was a really beautiful place. We knew this was the right spot to build a world-class trail facility – there were huge rock slabs and existing dirt trails through rugged mountains. Within three years, we built the trails and now the town gets fifty thousand visitors a year who just wanted to be ensconced in nature. Those trails have been a critical part of their economic development, and this is exactly what we envisage for the Wangetti Trail.”

The Wangetti Trail proposal was first released by the Queensland Government in April 2019, with World Trail releasing its detailed design shortly after. The finished trail will span 94km – 15km longer than originally envisaged – between Palm Cove Jetty (north of Cairns) and Port Douglas’s Four Mile Beach, and Jacobs says it’s going to blow visitors away.

“These types of trails are exploding all around the world – extreme adventure sports and endurance activities.

There are so many things about the Wangetti Trail that are exciting – the ecotones we have here in Tropical North Queensland are like nowhere else in the world. It’s not just all rainforest, it’s eucalyptus scrub directly close by, big rock slabs next to mangroves; waterfalls over gorges and rivers. When you design a trail, you find all the beautiful things and join them all together like a dot to dot.”

Although well into the planning and development stage now, Jacobs believes the final position of the track lands on just the right balance between giving riders thrills while allowing hikers to really soak up their surroundings.

“People want to travel from all over the world to come somewhere beautiful. One of the most ground-breaking things about the proposed Wangetti Trail is that it’s a hybrid for both bikers and hikers. Usually it’s just one or the other, but this will be for the new breed of people who don’t care if they hike or bike, they just want to experience. The trail sits about 100m in elevation from the Great Barrier Reef drive, still getting full views of the Coral Sea – how amazing will that be?”

Opportunities to open stage by stage will take advantage of this terrain. Although Wangetti is the hub with its boulders, flat rocks, river beds, waterfalls and escarpments, there is definitely an opportunity to start and complete elements of the track wherever users like. Palm Cove to Ellis Beach? Four Mile Beach to Spring Creek Falls? All do-able, and all uniting the smaller communities along the way.

“There are so many tourism products that will be birthed out of this – one-day, two-day, four-day adventures; crocodile spotting, hiking, biking, general outdoor and adventure enthusiasts.”

“Wangetti Trail has been close to my heart ever since I was a kid. A trail will lead you places, not only in terms of the physical environment, but also mentally and emotionally. I want my legacy to be just getting people out and exploring. Inspire other people to do extraordinary things. It’s the mentality of ‘if they can, I can’. The more people that are exposed to that, then… I’ve achieved what I came here to do.”

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